Gov. Phil Scott, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan and VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway issued a press release Friday afternoon touting a settlement in Digger's lengthy battle for access to documents in the EB-5 scandal.
Digger is seeking a total of 1.5 million pages of relevant documents. The state has refused to release them, citing ongoing litigation.
At first glance, Friday's press release appeared to signal a major step in the legal battle — but in actual fact, according to Galloway, it only included 100 or so pages.
She called the document release "minuscule," and added that, "We worked really hard to get them. We had a team of lawyers at work for at least four months." Galloway called it an "outrage that it takes so much effort to get so little."
EB-5 is a nationwide program aimed at spurring development in depressed areas by offering green cards to noncitizens who make significant investments in designated projects. The state of Vermont's program became victim to fraudulent schemes put forward by Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger between 2008 and 2016.
Digger has played the lead role in covering the scandal. In 2016, state and federal investigators charged Quiros and Stenger with numerous counts of fraud.
The documents released on Friday, Galloway said, were forms submitted by the state to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services related to how much each project received from investors over time — as well as "some very limited communications between the state and USCIS, pretty dry stuff. We're going through it to see if there's anything to report."
What the joint press statement failed to make clear is that the legal settlement was over a single suit filed by Digger regarding a specific set of documents.
"The governor has been pushing for releasing as many records as possible, but we understand the fact of ongoing litigation," Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said. Roughly 800,000 pages of documents related to state legal action against Quiros are being prepared for release, with a contractor removing any personal information from all the documents, such as phone numbers, addresses and Social Security numbers. "As soon as that's done, we'll release those documents," she said.
The other 700,000 are documents from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which oversaw the state's EB-5 program. Quiros and Stenger began their fraudulent activities during the administration of former governor Jim Douglas, when a single ACCD staffer was responsible for promoting and regulating Vermont's EB-5 program. Kelley said that the administration and attorney general are working on a process for releasing those documents.
Galloway is not pleased. She noted that the Quiros case is effectively closed, and that the discovery phase is over in a lawsuit brought by EB-5 investors. Given the circumstances, Galloway questions the need for a litigation exception.
"It could be several more years before we have the relevant documents," Galloway said. "This is the largest fraud in the history of the EB-5 program, and it occurred under state oversight. The public has a right to know what happened."
Correction, March 9, 2019: This post has been updated to note that Anne Galloway was one of the people who issued the joint news release.
Correction, March 11, 2019: An earlier version of this story contained errors about when the fraud began and Digger's role in uncovering the scandal.