BURLINGTON — A former Burlington College employee who coordinated the school’s cooperation with an FBI subpoena confirmed Friday that agents were looking into a land deal orchestrated by former college president Jane Sanders.
VTDigger reported Thursday that, as recently as February, the FBI and U.S. Attorney were combing through Burlington College records that the state took possession of in the wake of the school’s closure pursuant to an investigation.
Both law enforcement agencies declined to comment on the substance of their investigation. However, two Burlington College board members speculated that the investigation pertained to the purchase of 33 acres of prime lakefront for property for a new campus during Sanders’ tenure.
The former Burlington College employee, who dealt with the FBI, is the first person with direct knowledge of the federal probe to confirm that suspicion.
Coralee Holm, who started working at Burlington College in 2012, was dean of Operations and Advancement when the school closed last May. A few months earlier — Holm could not recall the specific date — an FBI agent arrived with a subpoena, she said.
“They were asking for documentation about the fundraising that had occurred before the college had moved to its new location,” Holm said.
Holm said she provided the FBI with email communications from Sanders, who orchestrated the 2010 purchase of the college’s North Avenue campus, as well as electronic and paper files relating to pledged donations used to secure a $6.7 million bank loan used to finance the purchase.
“There was not a lot of documentation for me to provide on the topic,” Holm said.
Jane Sanders is the wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Holm said she didn’t have time to go through all the records she turned over to the FBI, but she said a cursory look showed there were not a lot of records pertaining to the fundraising campaign. Using a spreadsheet with donor names provided by the FBI, she said she was unable to find records of their pledges.
In addition to emails and electronic files, the FBI ultimately carted off a “filing cabinet full of donor files,” Holm said.
VTDigger has previously reported that Sanders overstated pledged donations used to secure a loan from People’s United Bank. She told People’s United Bank in 2010 that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase of the former Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington property.
The college, however, received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by Burlington College.
Two people whose pledges are listed as confirmed in the loan agreement told VTDigger that their personal financial records show their pledges were overstated. Neither was aware the pledges were used to secure the loan.
Holm said she was not aware if any other individuals or organizations were subpoenaed as part of the FBI investigation, but she said an agent told her that, once they’d collected documents, they planned to speak with Jane Sanders and another former Burlington College president, Christine Plunkett.
Plunkett served as vice president for administration and finance during Sanders time as college president.