Feds Drop Burlington College Probe, According to Sanders Aide | Off Message

Bernie Sanders
Feds Drop Burlington College Probe, According to Sanders Aide


Jane O'Meara Sanders (right) and her husband - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Jane O'Meara Sanders (right) and her husband
Updated at 3:07 p.m.

A spokesperson for Jane O'Meara Sanders said Tuesday that federal authorities have concluded a long-running probe into her tenure as president of the now-shuttered Burlington College.

"Jane Sanders has been informed that the U.S. Attorney in Vermont has closed its investigation of the Burlington College land deal and has decided not to bring charges of any kind," spokesperson Jeff Weaver said in a written statement. In a phone interview, Weaver said the feds had shared the news with O’Meara Sanders’ attorneys in “the last couple of days.”

Federal authorities had not previously confirmed the investigation's existence. Kraig LaPorte, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan, said Tuesday that he could neither corroborate nor refute Weaver's statement, but he noted that his office does "communicate with represented parties."

The news lifts a cloud that has hovered over O'Meara Sanders and her husband, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for nearly three years. It comes as Sen. Sanders contemplates a second run for president.

As Seven Days and other news outlets have reported, federal authorities have investigated whether Burlington College fraudulently obtained a $6.5 million bank loan in 2010 to purchase a new, $10 million lakeside campus. According to former donors, O’Meara Sanders — then the president of the college — inflated the size of pledged donations in order to secure the loan.

The college closed in 2016, citing the “crushing weight of debt” incurred by O’Meara Sanders when she oversaw the purchase of the 32-acre campus.

Eight people associated with the college told Seven Days that they had been interviewed by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over a two-year period. One, former Burlington College president Carol Moore, said that FBI agents were particularly curious about her predecessor’s role in the matter.

"Was there any collusion between Jane Sanders and the bank?" Moore said, quoting an FBI agent who interviewed her in April 2017. "Did she falsify records in order to get the loan from the bank?"

O’Meara Sanders has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, as has her husband.

"Jane is grateful that the investigation has come to an end," said Weaver, a former chief of staff and campaign manager for Sen. Sanders. "As she has said from the beginning she has done nothing wrong and Jane is pleased that the matter has now come to a conclusion."

The investigation appeared to stem from a January 2016 complaint filed by Charlotte attorney and Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing. In a statement Tuesday, he called it “a shame” that those affected by the college’s closure “lost so much as a result of Ms. Sanders’s misconduct, but I am pleased that the matter was professionally investigated and assessed.”

Toensing, who has also accused Sen. Sanders without evidence of pressuring the bank to make the loan, repeated those allegations in his statement.

“Criminal standards are extremely high, but now that the investigation is over, I look forward to a full explanation from Senator Sanders and his wife about the financial discrepancies in her loan application and the Senator’s involvement in procuring the loan,” Toensing wrote.

Weaver responded to Toensing’s comments by noting his affiliation with President Donald Trump.

“Brady Toensing has been involved in a multiyear political smear campaign against Jane Sanders ever since he leveled these unfounded accusations,” Weaver said in the phone interview. “I think everybody knows that he does the president’s bidding. He was the president’s campaign chairman in Vermont during the 2016 election, and I think that tells Vermonters all they need to know about the credibility of his smears.”

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