Courts & Corrections

Sanders lawyered up in federal probe of Burlington College

Jane Sanders
Former Burlington College President Jane O’Meara Sanders. Photo courtesy of Burlington College

BURLINGTON — Jane Sanders has hired attorneys to represent her in a Justice Department probe of a land deal she orchestrated while president of the now-defunct Burlington College.

A former college employee who coordinated the school’s response to an FBI subpoena in February 2016 said she was contacted by two attorneys representing Jane Sanders shortly after VTDigger broke the news confirming the federal probe in late April.

Coralee Holm, the former dean of operations and advancement for Burlington College, said the attorneys wanted information about “what I had been asked by the FBI.”

“They were trying to get clarification on what the accusations are because they had not been contacted by anybody as to an investigation,” Holm said.

Two former Burlington College trustees said they were also contacted by attorneys representing Sanders, wife of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Holm said she got a call from the office of prominent Burlington attorney Rich Cassidy in late April or early May.

Jane Sanders did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this report and has refused VTDigger’s repeated requests for an interview about Burlington College since late 2015.

Cassidy also did not return a call Thursday requesting comment.

Holm said she was contacted in late May by Jennifer Windom, a partner in the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber. Windom’s questions were similar to those from Cassidy’s office, asking Holm to outline her understanding of the allegations against Sanders.

One of the principals of the firm, Larry Robbins, represented Scooter Libby, a former aide to vice president Dick Cheney, who was convicted of lying and obstructing a leak investigation.

Holm said that after asking for more information, she declined to answer questions from either attorney.

Windom could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. The bio on her firm’s website says she’s a trial attorney who specializes in “complex civil litigation and government investigations and enforcement actions.”

As president of Burlington College in 2010, Sanders secured a $6.7 million loan from People’s United Bank, which the college used to purchase a 33-acre lakefront campus for the school.

Federal investigators are probing aspects of that land deal, according to Holm and another former employee who said they had been contacted by the FBI. Federal officials have declined to comment on the investigation.

The loan agreement required the college to provide evidence of more than $2 million in pledged donations as collateral. However, three donors — including the largest, listed at $1 million — have told VTDigger their pledges were misrepresented in the loan documents.

Between 2010 and 2014 the college collected only $676,000 in donations, according to former college officials. The school was also never able to increase enrollment as Sanders had projected. It closed in May 2016, with officials citing debt from the land purchase as the primary reason.

Coralee Holm, dean of operations and advancement at Burlington College, emerges from the locked school to speak with alumni and reporters at the time it closed in 2016. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

Holm has said that when the FBI subpoenaed the school last year, an agent asked her for records relating to a list of donors in a spreadsheet the agent provided her, as well as communications from when Sanders was president. Holm said she gave the agent paper and digital records.

Emails obtained by VTDigger through a public records request show an FBI agent and the assistant U.S. attorney for Vermont who leads the criminal division were reviewing Burlington College records in the state’s possession as recently as February.

A woman listed as a $1 million pledged donor in the loan document that Sanders signed said she was interviewed by an investigator with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in April.

Yves Bradley, chair of the recently dissolved Burlington College board of trustees, said Thursday that he was contacted a month ago by Cassidy’s assistant, who made it clear Cassidy was representing Sanders.

Bradley said he didn’t find out specifically what Cassidy hoped to discuss, because he declined the meeting on the advice of an attorney representing the board.

Jonathan Leopold, who chaired the Burlington College board of trustees finance committee when the land deal was inked — and when Sanders was forced out 10 months later — said he too was contacted by a lawyer representing her.

“We talked about my recollection of Burlington College finances. That’s really all I want to comment about,” Leopold said. He refused to provide further detail about the discussion.

Leopold said the conversation took place about a month and a half ago, and he did not recall the attorney’s name. Leopold said he was not familiar with the attorney who called on Sanders’ behalf, but he said it was not Cassidy.

Leopold served in Bernie Sanders’ mayoral administration in Burlington in the 1980s and later the administration of former Mayor Bob Kiss.

(Disclosure: Rich Cassidy is defending VTDigger in Cegalis v. VTDigger, a defamation case in Washington County Superior Court.)

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Morgan True

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  • Steve Baker

    If the Shoe Fits…..
    Takes one to know one…..
    What goes around, comes around….

  • Gary Murdock

    Nothing to see here folks, just the typical actions of the socialist ruling class. If anyone’s to blame it’s the Vermont voter for faithfully handing Bernie any elected office he asks for.

  • Peter Everett

    Obviously, things are getting too hot for comfort.

  • Michael A. Stahler

    This isn’t going away.

  • Jim Manahan

    She carved out a waterfront lot for herself?

  • Peter Everett

    Huh??? What does that have to do with how a politician pays for things?

    • Patsy Decline

      It has everything to do with how a private citizen under investigation for activities as president of a private sector entity pays for things.

  • Gary Dickinson

    While I think the real estate deal stunk to high heaven, where is the info about the waterfront lot she carved out of the Diocese’s property for herself?

  • Chuck Darney

    I could see your point if she had hired a local attorney to seek counsel, however, when one hires a D.C. attorney who specializes in government investigations and enforcement actions, and that attorney then goes around to see what people told the Feds…I think Lawyering Up applies.

    It may even border on obstructing a federal investigation if they are not careful.

    • Christopher Daniels

      So if she hired a local attorney everything would be just fine? That’s odd.

  • Michael Dougherty

    As stated in the article: “Jane Sanders did not immediately return a call requesting comment for this report and has refused VTDigger’s repeated requests for an interview about Burlington College since late 2015.”

    • Christopher Daniels

      As this is concerns her activity as an employee at a private institution, what obligation does she have to talk with the media? She could very well have agreement with her employer to say nothing. Her silence to the media is taken as an implication of wrongdoing.

      • Rich Lachapelle

        Her position as the “employee at a private institution” was the direct result of her being the spouse of a prominent political figure. She would never have rose to that position without her spouse’s influence.

  • Jim Manahan

    What is inaccurate?

  • Larry Rudiger

    This is preposterous. The land belonged to the Catholic Diocese of Vermont. True, they didn’t erect fences around it to keep off trespassers. But it was not a public park. It’s just that a noisy contingent felt entitled to trespass on it. Of course, had anybody been injured, well, then, the lawsuit, I’m sure, would have faulted the Diocese for not preventing trespassing.

    Bernie and Jane bought a camp up in the islands. They already have a house not too far north of the former Catholic Diocese property, and while it’s not on the water, it includes access to a private beach.

  • David Dempsey

    My thoughts exactly. He did a good job helping misappropiate taxpayers dollars to bail out Burlington Telecom. That was a crime, but public officials have indemnity, which means they are exempt from legal responsibllity for one’s actions.

  • Anne L Hilliard

    Who trusts the FBI to do a thorough investigation of a Democrat these days? Under Obama, they became politicized.

  • Jim Manahan

    Here we have a hypocritical Senator Sanders defending what he has made a career of accusing others of doing.

  • Patsy Decline

    As far as how she pays for it, yes, it matters