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.