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Quiros Sentenced to Five Years for EB-5 Crimes


Published April 29, 2022 at 1:00 p.m.

Ariel Quiros (left) with his former lawyer, Seth Levine, after a 2019 court hearing - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • Ariel Quiros (left) with his former lawyer, Seth Levine, after a 2019 court hearing
Miami businessman and former Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros has received a five-year federal prison sentence for his leading role in the calamitous EB-5 scheme that became the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Chief U.S. District Court judge Geoffrey Crawford sentenced Quiros on Friday, handing down the longest term given to the trio of men who have pleaded guilty to aspects of the fraud. Quiros was also ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution.

Quiros, 65, faced up to eight years in prison as part of a plea deal struck in 2020 to cooperate with prosecutors' investigation into his coconspirators, Bill Stenger and William Kelly. Without the deal, the charges that Quiros admitted to — money laundering, conspiring to commit wire fraud, and making false statements — carried a potential sentence of more than 12 years.

Stenger and Kelly each received 18-month prison terms for their roles in the conspiracy. A fourth partner, Alex Choi of South Korea, is still at large.
The criminal charges stemmed from one project in a string of ventures in the Northeast Kingdom between 2012 and 2016 that also included Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resort. The men raised hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign investors who were participating in a government program that offered them a path to U.S. residency if their investments created real jobs.
While all of the EB-5 projects in the Ponzi-like scheme entailed financial irregularities, cost overruns and other problems, a proposal to build a biomedical facility in Newport was almost entirely fraudulent, federal prosecutors asserted.

More than 150 foreign investors contributed $85 million to the so-called AnC Bio project. Nothing was ever built.

At least $30 million of the investor funds went to Quiros, who used them to settle other financial obligations and fuel a lavish lifestyle.

Prosecutors have described Quiros as the "ultimate decision maker" in the scheme, while Stenger was the front man who leveraged his reputation in Vermont to build local support. Quiros was also the first of the men to plead guilty, and gave the government documents and information that helped them piece together the criminal case.
"To put it bluntly, Mr. Quiros brought the house down on this case," his attorney, Neil Taylor, told the judge Friday.

Quiros' attorneys and federal prosecutors alike urged judge Crawford to consider Quiros' cooperation in sentencing him. They also pushed back on the notion that Quiros was the sole mastermind of the conspiracy.

"In the government's view, Mr. Quiros was drunk with being rich, but others were handing him the bottle," assistant U.S. attorney Paul Van de Graaf said.

Yet the fact that Quiros had stolen the vast majority of the AnC Bio funds weighed toward a longer sentence than the one issued to Kelly or Stenger, who did not appear to have profited from the AnC Bio project specifically. During the sentencing hearing, Crawford tried to assemble an accurate estimate of how much investor money Quiros took for himself, landing on $30 million as a conservative figure.

While "no one has been eager to take credit for leading the AnC Bio project," Crawford said, Quiros remains, if not a mastermind, "at the center" of the fraud.

Quiros put forward just one witness at his sentencing, his former attorney Melissa Damian, who is now a federal magistrate judge in the southern district of Florida. She described Quiros as being "confused" about the allegations against him when they met in early 2017, after the Securities & Exchange Commission had brought separate charges of securities fraud.

"He didn't know if what he had done was wrong," Damian said.

In brief remarks before Crawford issued the sentence, Quiros said he regretted his involvement and apologized to the court, the government and the State of Vermont.

"I stand fully responsible," he said.