Shumlin gets new digs, keeps mum on details

Gov. Peter Shumlin's house. Photo by Alicia Freese.

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s house. Photo by Alicia Freese.

Editor’s note: Anne Galloway contributed to this report.

Until this week Gov. Peter Shumlin was quietly making progress on his new residence, a 2,200 square foot house at the edge of an East Montpelier woodland. Now word is out. Peter Hirschfeld, of the Vermont Press Bureau, broke a story about the governor’s so-called “cabin in the woods” on Wednesday.

Shumlin was reluctant to talk about the property at a VTDigger editorial meeting on Sept. 24 and declined to elaborate about his plans for the new homestead at a press conference on Thursday.

The governor won’t talk about who he’s living with, who his neighbors and co-purchasers are and whether he plans to make East Montpelier his legal residence. He has been living at a rented house in Montpelier since he was elected governor. His family and business are in Putney.

Shumlin purchased the property, which is located several miles from the center of town, for $35,000 through the creation of a limited liability corporation, Foster Road, LLC. He acquired the 27-acre plot in June and obtained a zoning permit to construct a “single family house” a month prior to the sale. The 27 acres was appraised at $145,600 on Sept. 21. This figure does not include the value of the new house, which won’t be appraised until the spring.

Shumlin went in on the property with a group of four friends who also formed a limited liability company known as Jersey Ledges LLC. He told reporters the price for the acreage was divided equally between the two limited liability companies. Jersey Ledges purchased the adjacent 155 acre parcel for $630,000.

When reporters pressed the governor about who his friends were, Shumlin insisted on protecting their privacy. Each of the four individuals who are part of Jersey Ledges contributed $1,000 to Shumlin’s campaign in 2012.

At Thursday’s press conference, Paul Heintz of Seven Days asked: “Can you tell me about the four people you went into that deal with?”

Shumlin: “No, I won’t.”

Heintz: “Will you say how you met them?”

Shumlin: “You know I’m not going to. I’m perfectly happy to share with you all aspects of my public life but my private life is just that, private.”

Heintz: “They are campaign contributors of yours, aren’t they?”

Shumlin: “Many of my friends have contributed to my campaign. I’m grateful to them.”

Hirschfeld: “Do you think you got that land for a better deal than you would have if it hadn’t been part of the combined deal that they went in on?”

Shumlin: “Oh yes, absolutely.”

Hirschfeld asked if the Hagemanns and Cromwells had given the land at a reduced price as a gift to the governor.

Shumlin: “No, it wasn’t a gift to me, it was a gift to them for me sharing the farm with them that I was going to buy. It was a mutually beneficial agreement.”

The back and forth with reporters went on for about 15 minutes.

When asked who would be living with him in the 2,200 square foot house, the governor refused to say. His response: “Anything else you want to talk about?” Pressed a second time, Shumlin responded: “I think when I said a minute ago that my private life is just that, my private life, and I intend to keep it that way. I’m happy to talk to you about any areas of my life that have to do with my job as governor but that’s not one of them.”

Shumlin has been separated from his wife, Deborah Holway, for several years. He has two college-aged daughters.

The governor said he hadn’t decided whether he would become a legal resident of East Montpelier.

When Hirschfeld pressed the governor about why he had purchased the property through a limited liability corporation for the property, Shumlin went on the offensive.

“Are you going to criticize me now for forming an LLC?” Shumlin asked. “With the rest of Vermont and America? I just wondered why you would want to? I’m just wondering what you’re digging for, Peter? Do you work for the Vermont Press Bureau or the National Enquirer? Did you get a promotion?” (This isn’t the first time the governor has expressed an interest in Hirschfeld’s career path. At a press conference on Aug. 14, Shumlin suggested the 34-year-old reporter run for governor.)

At that point, Shumlin thanked reporters and walked out of the press conference.

What’s known about Shumlin’s new neighbors?

Thomas and Christianne Hagemann live in Texas and Patrice and David Cromwell, M.D., live in Maryland. The Hagemanns’ financial support for Shumlin dates back to 2002, when Thomas and Christianne each contributed $400 to Shumlin’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor.

According to a 2006 Vermont Business Magazine article, Thomas Hagemann befriended Peter and his brother, Jeff Shumlin, shortly after Peter graduated from Wesleyan University in 1979. Thomas was one of the first trip leaders for Putney Student Travel.

Thomas Hagemann is an attorney at a private law firm specializing in antitrust, computer fraud, customs offenses, environmental crime, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, health care fraud, public corruption, securities fraud and tax. Hagemann is also a playwright and his wife, Christianne, is a professional actress. According to biographical information provided in a local theater guide, Hagemann assisted the Clinton-Gore campaign with environmental research and presidential debate prep in 1992. Their only other ostensible connection to Vermont is that Thomas sits on the board of the Putney Open Door Fund, a nonprofit foundation associated with Putney Student Travel, which Shumlin’s parents founded and Peter Shumlin used to be co-director.

David Cromwell is a doctor specializing in gastroenterology. Neither the Cromwells nor the Hagemanns immediately returned calls for comment.

The new house Shumlin is building was not quite complete three weeks ago when VTDigger photographed the residence. The roof was on, windows were in, and a small garage had been erected nearby, but the house’s unfinished rust-colored exterior and a backhoe parked in front were evidence that more work was left to be done.

The home is modest in comparison to the governor’s income, which has declined during the past two years. In his 2009 income tax return, Shumlin reported an income of $987,614, approximately two-thirds ($617,217) of which came from rental real estate properties. He reported an income of $502,253 in his 2011 return, only $125,466 of which came from rental properties. Shumlin has not released his assets since 2010, when he first ran for governor, because he says they have not changed. At the time, his net worth was $10 million.

Alicia Freese

Comments

  1. It truly boggles the mind about how if what is pictured above is considered to be a “cabin”, at least by the soon-to-be occupant of it, pray tell what would be a huge house?

  2. Ross Laffan :

    The governor has a house and he lives in that house. This stinks to high heaven. Keep digging!

  3. Warren Kitzmiller :

    I think this “story” is a non-starter. Is our Governor not allowed to buy land and build a home? Is it a requirement that he pay absolutely top dollar for the land? Or maybe he’s not allowed to have friends who live in Texas?
    No, it seems to me that he just is not allowed to have a private life . . .

  4. Don Kreis :

    I agree with Rep. Kitzmiller. Anyone who objects to Governor Shumlin’s new house should check out what his New Hampshire counterpart John Lynch built for himself in Hopkinton. More importantly, where exactly is the news here? That the governor would like to travel back to Putney less and be closer to his office? That he has done exactly what every single other Vermonter would reserve the right to do without question? Nothing illegal, nothing improper, noting embarrassing, nothing even surprising.

    Moreover, although I am sure it is unintended, the transcribed version of the Governor’s colloquy with the reporter from the Vermont Press Bureau seems calculated to make the Governor look stupid. Did he say”I’m just wondering what your digging for, Peter?” or “I’m just wondering what you’re digging for, Peter?”

    This, it seems to me, is a classic example of the journalists who cover the governor mistaking their working relationship with him, which will surely include moments of exasperation on both sides, for news that is of significance to the rest of the world. With all due respect to the excellent folks on vtdigger.

    • The typo was the fault of the transcriptionist. Now corrected. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. James Fordham :

    Non story here…move on please.

  6. Avram Patt :

    Sometimes it feels like some Vermont reporters wish they were playing in the big leagues, or something. An elected official looking to build a home has personal friends that he goes in on a real estate purchase with, in a legal arrangement that appears to work well for all of them. Turns out these friends have over the years contributed a few hundred dollars or a thousand dollars a pop to his campaign?

    OK…..

    So?

    Look at the campaign finance reports of other statewide or even local candidates and you are bound to see contributions from friends, family, old school buddies or whatever from out of state. For these reported dollar amounts, is there a suggestion of undue influence of some kind? There doesn’t appear to be.

    This story has taken up a lot of acreage and valuable reporter time on vtdigger and on the front page of my local paper. I’m not saying it’s not worth a news report at some level, but are we also now going to be treated to exposes about the personal friends of other candidates who’ve also made similarly-sized campaign contributions, and their relationships? Regardless of which candidate for which office, there are much more useful things to read.

  7. Jon Gailmor :

    The line, tone and bully-ish quality of the questioning is more than vaguely reminiscent of the worst of British tabloid rags. VT Digger is better than that.

  8. Michael Gardner :

    WOW, the blinders are really on for some people. Simple fact of the matter is the Governor, through an LLC, was given $90,000 in equity in a land purchase. There is nothing that precludes the Governor from selling that gift and reaping the benefit.

    This isn’t much different than a “dollar sale” and depending on how it was structured could have consequences

    This is a $90,000 gift and he had better come clean quickly. The last thing we need from Shumlin is more shady dealings.

    What would people say if the other members of the LLC were board members at Green Mountain Power? Or what if they were investors in Iberdrola (the ridge raping wind company)?

    Occupying a higher office requires some sunlight be shed on shady deals

  9. Sarah Smith :

    I used to have a lot of respect for Vt Digger. I have lost all of it. This reporter should be let go.

  10. Tom Holton :

    I used to have a lot of respect for Vt digger.
    This is not the case anymore. This reporter should be let go. Sorry VT digger, you just lost a reader.

  11. Jay Davis :

    I hate to say this, but Shumlin’s responses clearly show he has something to hide. I have always wondered why, like Mitt Willard the Wizard, Romney, the richer you get the more cheap deals you can grab.

    Imagine an average Vermonter on a 50,000 a year household income getting the kind of seetie heart deals, Peter gets.

  12. Eric Robichaud :

    Thank you for the email requesting that we comment on this article in support of Governor Shumlin.

    My comment is that I used to have a lot of respect for Vermont digger and I no longer do.

    Thank you.

    • Carl Werth :

      This is great! The email from whom – the Shumlin Propaganda Bureau?

  13. kevin ellis :

    Putting aside the transparent organized criticism of the governor in many of these comments, there is a deeper and far more important dynamic at work here – the role of the press and whether it is appropriate to ask the governor about where he lives and the financial transaction behind his building of a house. The press surely has the right and obligation to ask these questions. Indeed, they must. And the governor has a right to get angry and walk out. This is as it should be.

    Many a politician’s career has floundered over real estate deals. The Vermont press has a duty to ask the governor about these details. The governor then has a right to refuse to answer the questions. The press will dig and back and forth we go – a healthy and vibrant First Amendment guiding the way.

    The governor’s skin is way thicker than everyone involved, especially those pathetically calling for the resignation of rookie reporter Alicia Freese. She is doing her job.

    Politics is not tea at 4 pm. It is hard and tough. And sometimes people’s feelings get hurt.

    The governor, as usual, is 6 weeks ahead of everyone in his thinking on this and will have no problem dealing with it.

    A suggestion for Digger – convene an on-line discussion of Tom Slayton, Barry Dunsmore, Susan Smallheer, John Dillon and others to talk about this.

    • Mike Curtis :

      Fair enough comments, Kevin.

      My big question is the reporter’s question, “Who are you going to live there with?”.

      It’s not clear to me that this is an appropriate question. It appears to me that the reporter (who I respect very much) was just digging for some personal information that it’s really relavant to our political discourse.

  14. James Fordham :

    why doesn’t the press ask about Randy Brock’s ride…$90,000 jaguar…his 2nd home in FLA…now that’s news.

  15. Justin Campfield :

    I’m a Shumlin supporter, but Kevin Ellis is right. This is a story the media has to look at.

    By forming an LLC with partners to purchase the land/build the house, it’s become more than a personal housing issue. It’s a business transaction – one involving political donors nonetheless – that the press has every right (and certainly a duty) to look into.

    The apparently organized effort to quiet VTDigger and the reporter not only makes it seem like someone has something to hide, it’s pretty unsavory.

    • Avram Patt :

      I’m not one calling for the firing of any reporters or a media gag. As I said in my previous comment, this may be newsworthy, no objection to that. What at least some people are put off by is how out of proportion to reality the reporting on this is, and how emotional it is on the part of the press, not that it was reported.

      We’re one of only a handful of states that don’t provide their Governors with deluxe state-owned accommodations….

  16. Eric Robichaud :

    The reporter for Vermont Digger ought to be fired.

    Thank you.

  17. kevin ellis :

    Go Alicia! – When they are calling for your resignation, you know you are starting to the do the job right.

  18. Michael Colby :

    Of course this is a story. And the more Shumlin acts like a spoiled brat, the more to the story. Thank you, Digger, for shining some light on it. And shame on those with such partisan ninniness that they’re calling for a reporter to be fired over this.

  19. Jim Barrett :

    I think Shum needs another SECRET VACATION if he gets upset over a simple question. With so many politicians on both sides involved in legally/shady deals, the reporter had every right and an obligation to ask anything he wants. Lighten up Shum and smell the roses.

  20. Cindy Larkin :

    I agree VT Digger this isn’t news. Governor Shumlin has a family and we need to respect his privacy.

  21. Eric Robichaud :

    Vermont Digger should be banned from all press conferences until they learn to respect Governor Shumlin.

    I, amongst others, will no longer be buying your paper at local stores which will hurt the local economy. Truth be told, i never liked it anyway.

    Think global, act local!

    • Steven Farnham :

      Vermont Digger has a print edition? I didn’t know.

    • Carl Werth :

      Eric should be banned from making comments until he gets a clue what he is commenting on first.

  22. Christian Noll :

    Maybe this is just Gov Shum’s way of reaffirming his “personal commitment” as Wendy Wilton would say.

  23. It’s a legitimate story. The Governor gets a substantial property and receives a substantial reduction in price for said property. This is the stuff that corruption is made of unless publicly examined explanations are made.

    I haven’t seen any indication of corruption – just friends helping friends. I’m satisfied.

  24. Bill Porter :

    Dig, Digger, dig. A news reporter knows she has touched a nerve when the politician squeals and has his minions organize a letter-writing campaign. Gov. Shumlin certainly has a right to protect his private life but this story is not about his personal pursuits; it’s about his business pursuits and that makes it fair game. In this case, it is a particularly relevant “news” subject for two reasons:
    1. As a private investor who also is a public servant with numerous LLCs involving real estate, we the public ought to know whether any of Shumlin’s dealings have any connection to public policy or property.
    2. The news media must always arise to the challenge whenever a powerful public servant tries to dictate what is, and is not, fit to print.
    As the once-revered and feared reporter Mavis Doyle used to preach, “The job of a news reporter is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

    • Bruce Post :

      And, that’s why there is a Mavis Doyle Award.

      These are the standards for winning the award:

      “Judging will take into account the reporter’s aggressiveness, determination, compassion, commitment to journalism, dedication to social justice, and unwavering belief that journalism should be the watchdog of the government and the voice of the people.”

      AMEN!

    • Coleman Dunnar :

      Bill you really nailed the central issue – “we the public ought to know whether any of Shumlin’s dealings have any connection to public policy or property.”
      This one deal is likely only the tip of the iceberg and hopefully the beginning of a deep excavation /exhumation by Alicia Freese and colleagues. Take a look at who benefits from legislation that has passed under the current administration and the correlation with contributors to his campaigns. Dig deeper into the instances where a “perceived conflict of interest” existed in a major business decision affecting our utility structure etc. There have been far too many displays of hubris by this administration to justify asking the hard questions. Not being open and honest with Vermonters at the very least is a manifestation of lack of respect and poor judgment on the part of a public servant.
      As members of the public we shouldn’t be so quick to shoot the messenger. Digger keep digging we the public deserve to know.

  25. mark milazzo :

    I suspect if the last name of the governor in this story was Douglas, this would be even bigger in the VT media. And I would bet the people indicating they will stop their subscription to VTDigger because of it, would be clamoring for more investigation.

    Nobody is a bigger political animal in VT than our current governor (except maybe Vince I.). To me he represents NY and NJ style politics at its best. If he had simply come out and said he got a good deal because he could, I would probably let it go. But for him to spin it that he is helping his friends, is a bunch VT cow manure… Furthermore for him to equate the reporting to that of the NY Post or National Enquirer is more BS (getting back a little of what you have been dishing out for a long time Governor?). Clearly there is something more to the story than the Governor wants us to know. In my mind the only thing that should be off limits is who is living in the house. I don’t care, nor do I suspect do the majority of Vermonters.

    Good reporting Alicia and keep digging. And thanks VTDigger for providing some balanced reporting that is in limited supply in VT these days.

    ps.. I just subscribed..:)

  26. Josh Fitzhugh :

    I agree with the previous comment (Milazzo) but the story is a bit unclear. Was the 27 acre parcel, appraised at $147,000, purchased for $35,000 or was the $35,000 the governor’s contribution to the purchase price? If the latter, and three others contributed equal amounts, then there was no bargain sale and no possible gift or contribution to the governor.

    • Shumlin paid $35,000 for the 27 acres. He bought it directly from the owners, according to town records. The appraisal was conducted by the town about four months after the purchase. Listers valued the land at $147,000 — without the house.

      In all, the two LLCs paid $665,000 for the farm; listers now value it at nearly $1 million.

      We do not have a copy of the pre-purchase, private appraisal of the farm, which would likely provide information regarding the per-acre value of the farm.

  27. Bruce Post :

    Gosh, at times like this, I sure do miss Peter Freyne. RIP, big guy!

  28. Kevin Jones :

    The governor clearly got a good deal on the property. His explanation is highly plausible and believable. Typically tough reporting by VTDigger. Great business deal by our shrewd governor. Vermont is a much better place because of the great reporting of VTDigger and as a result of the effective leadership of governor Shumlin. Lets move on to the important issues of jobs, healthcare, energy policy, and the environment.

  29. Randy Koch :

    What does it mean that Shumlin needs the great Kevin Ellis to help defuse this scandal? Kevin of Kimball, Sherman, Ellis–that huge mass of dark matter moving and shaking Vermont politics from behind the scenes for decades. What’s a powerhouse like him doing down with us riff raff in humble commentary column of VT Digger?

    Well and what exactly is the KSE spin? Chill, everything’s ok, 1st amendment working just right, reporter deserves pat on head, we need a panel discussion on it. But Shumlin himself? not even breaking into a sweat. Man, he’s so smart, why he’s thinking “6 weeks ahead of the rest of us! As usual!” Oh yes, and those who are knocking Governor 6-Weeks-Ahead are participants “in transparent organized criticism of the governor.”

    Ellis probably is NOT just doing image protection: after all, Shumlin doesn’t waste time pretending to be an average Vermonter rather than an average millionaire. So what’s got him worried enough to wheel in KSE? Are there skeletons in Shumlin’s Putney real estate closet or elsewhere in his real estate empire? If so, can the governor stay 6 weeks ahead of the curve, get re-elected, and get KSE to organize such a great re-inauguration that everyone forgets.

  30. I won’t criticize the reporters for asking tough questions or the Governor for “heading for the hills.”

    I think VT Digger could have at least mentioned the purpose of the press conference, which was to announce $2 million awarded to VTel from the FCC to expand their wireless coverage. Remember, VTel has already received more than $100 million in grants and loans from the USDA and the VTA to build a wireless network and upgrade their existing wireline customers to fiber optic connections. The wireless network is at least a year away from going live and the money keeps pouring in. Two years ago VTel promised they would provide “broadband” to all unserved Vermonters. Guess how many folks are using that service today? None. Now they’re peddling “cell phone coverage” funded by an overhauled Universal Service Fund and the recent Mobility Fund Auction. This is a complete scam, yet everyone just nods and says, “yeah, I would like better service and fewer dropped calls on my new smart phone.” Wireless networks are slowly imploding due to demand for mobile data and RF interference, yet we continue splurging on new towers, phones and data plans that have no future.

    That’s the actual story here.

  31. david Black :

    I am glad to see that a lot of people hear see that Shumlin has something to hide. Dig deeper and you will find more dirt.

    • Mike Curtis :

      Soon they might even find his *real* birth certificate!

  32. Eric Robichaud :

    Please stop the transparent organized criticism of our Governor.

    Thank you.

  33. Will Patten :

    The governor certainly has something to hide: his PRIVACY!
    I would have walked out of that presser quicker than he did.
    That was a feeding frenzy. Not pretty.

  34. Eric Robichaud :

    Thank you Will. I saw that you were copied on the email and was hoping that you would weigh in.

  35. Michael Gardner :

    So the Gov gets a $90,000 gift of equity and you people are pissed that his privacy was invaded! Are you out of your minds!!!

    Something really, really stinks here and apparently this reporter had the nerve to unearth just a little bit of it, for that she is being crucified by the Shumlin PR machine.

    I’d LOVE to see a follow-up to this article

  36. Carl Werth :

    I just want to add that because of this episode, I have gained a TON of respect for vtdigger on principle alone!

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