On a main street block in Newport, Vt., lie a pile of demolished rubble that locals now refer to as “Little Beirut.” It stands out as a symbol of cronyism. Broken promises.
How the rubble got there sounds like a version of “The Music Man,” rewritten for a cronyistic, pay-for-play immigration program that left the small town’s economy in shambles.
“I think every business, including myself, was enthusiastic about seeing a large project come to town, which would mean more businesses, more jobs, more people,” Steve Breault, owner and proprietor of the Newport Natural Market and Café explained to “Michelle Malkin Investigates.”
“And I think everybody believed it was a good thing for the town, at least from a business perspective.”
In Episode 4 of her new CRTV show, Conservative Review Senior Editor Michelle Malkin dives into a failed government project that’s left half of Newport’s downtown area in shambles — leaving small-business owners like Breault holding the bag.
It’s “a deep concern for city officials,” says Newport Mayor Paul Monette.
What he’s referring to is a development project in the tiny Vermont town of about 5,000, which lies in the state’s so-called “Northeast Kingdom” where jobs are already scarce. The area was slated for a $600 million government project (the largest in the state’s history) that envisioned a brand-new ski resort, biology research lab, and a retail-hotel overhaul of main street.
Instead, all they got was a broken jobs promise and a pile of rubble now being overseen by the federal government.
The Newport disaster was just one of several such boondoggles in areas deemed “targeted employment areas,” where the federal government ostensibly seeks to revive it by trading promises of U.S. residency in exchange for foreign investment. Established in 1997, the EB-5 visa program allows wealthy foreigners to effectively buy U.S. green cards, so long as their “investment” creates a paltry 10 American jobs.
Over 700 investors from at least 74 countries dumped money into various projects in the Northeast Kingdom area. “Each investor probably had different reasons for wanting U.S. residency,” explains Malkin. “Sanctuary for safety or human rights concerns, access to education, or to tap into American financial markets.”
But investors, too, would end up being victims of fraud in this case. Cue Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros, developers who spearheaded the project by acting as middlemen, raising money from investors to court them for program-eligible towns in Vermont. Or so it seemed.
“In reality, Quiros and Stenger were brazen con men who were secretly stealing funds from their backers,” Malkin explains in the episode, detailing how the two allegedly swindled millions of dollars from investors for their own personal gain.
Faced with 52 counts of federal securities violations by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly misusing $200 million in foreign investments, Stenger recently reached a settlement with the SEC in civil court proceedings. (The civil case against Quiros is ongoing.)
And with the charges, Newport’s revival project came to a “screeching halt” Malkin reports. No lab, no ski resort, no new jobs … nothing but a demolished eyesore of a city block to give Newport residents a daily reminder of how bad they got conned.
“I bought a second property” in anticipation of the project, explains Ruth Sproull, a local bed and breakfast owner. “I invested a chunk of my inheritance money in another property to create an extended stay facility as part of my business.”
“I always felt [the bio research facility] was going to be much more important to the economic growth, because it was going to create high-paid jobs in the community,” Mayor Paul Monette told MMI, explaining that he and others expected an influx of scientists, and others, into the local economy. “The way I look at it is, if people came here, they spend money, and some actually relocate, which helps the overall economy.”
But now, Monette’s town and people are saddled with a situation that’s likely to stay in limbo for years as legal proceedings drag on.
“I call it an economic disaster for the area, for Newport,” says Monette.
In her 2015 book, “Sold Out: How High-Tech Billionaires & Bipartisan Beltway Crapweasels are Screwing America's Best and Brightest Workers,” Michelle Malkin describes why Canada got rid of a similar cash-for-citizenship scheme (hint: it was bad for Canadians and rife with fraud), and dives into other cases where hardworking American workers and communities have fallen victim to the EB-5 visa travesty.
These stories (and more recent ones like them) show that the residents of Newport are, unfortunately, far from alone.
A few hundred miles south, an EB-5 scandal also rocked the town of Port St. Lucie, Fla. As The New York Post reported in January, developer Lily Zhong promised to build the city a real downtown area, producing mockups and putting money down $500,000 for vacant space.
“The big idea was to create a sense of place, to put a ‘there’ there,” Mayor Gary Oravec told the Post. But his fate would sound a lot like Paul Monette in Newport before the whole scheme was over.
Zhong raised millions from Chinese investors with the promise of U.S. visas in return. She squandered and swindled away the investors’ money on personal luxuries, while dashing the town’s hopes of a real city center. “We had no knowledge of the alleged fraud and embezzlement,” read a joint statement from the 17 Chinese investors to a federal judge, pleading the judge in a last-ditch effort to help recover their stolen assets.
The Center for Immigration Studies maintains a map that outlines dozens of federal, state, local, and civil cases involving EB-5 visa scandals that have rocked towns across the country.
While some members of Congress have repeatedly called for investigation into and reform of the program, others see that the only real fix is to completely get rid of it, as Canada has already done.
“Once you engage in green card social engineering, where you go and you take a scarce commodity of citizenship, and you don't make it about a broad American policy … you make it about benefiting special interests,” Conservative Review’s Daniel Horowitz explained to MMI. “Sure you could try to regulate it, but that in itself breeds corruption.”
“Michelle Malkin Investigates” is available now on CRTV.