Justice Department Investigated College Once Run By Sanders’ Wife

Jane and Bernie Sanders / Getty Images

The Justice Department was investigating the now-defunct Burlington College formerly run by Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I., Vt.) wife Jane as recently as a couple months ago, according to newly released emails that were obtained through a public records request.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. attorney for Vermont and an FBI agent who reviewed Burlington's records in the state's possession earlier this year, according to the emails obtained by the website VTDigger.

"It’s typical for us not to comment or to confirm whether or not there’s a current investigation. We would not comment on any active investigation," Kraig LaPorte, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said.

The Burlington College board of trustees chair Yves Bradley said on Thursday that the investigation has been ongoing for over a year, and at least one employee was subpoenaed during their probe, VTDigger reported.

In January 2016, after reporting by VTDigger showing former Burlington College President Jane Sanders overstated pledged donations in applying for a loan so the school could purchase its former North Avenue campus, Republican lawyer Brady Toensing made a formal request to the U.S. attorney for a fraud investigation.

The Vermont Agency of Education took possession of records left at the college in the wake of its sudden closure in May. When a college closes, state law requires the school or the state to keep academic records so students can obtain transcripts and graduate certificates.

Burlington College opted to let the state handle that process. Agency officials said they found the school’s records in disarray, in part because of an unsolved burglary. The state, as a result, took possession of nonacademic records as well as the student records it was required to take.

While Bradley said that he did not have any information about what the FBI probe covered, he speculated that it related to the College's purchase of its former North Avenue campus.

Two other board members, Tom Torti of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and Burlington City Council president Jane Knodell made statements on the investigation. They both said that they had no contact with FBI, but were aware of the investigation through the resolutions approved in December.

Torti said the probe was related to "the purchase of Burlington College and how the money came about, going back to what a lot of us scratched our heads about who came to the board after (the purchase), which was what were they thinking and how did this all make sense financially."

Jane Sanders was involved in the rumors because she "overstated donation amounts in a bank application for a $6.7 million loan the college used to purchase a prime 33-acre property on Lake Champlain in 2010," VTDigger reported.

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.

Sanders did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, inquiring whether she was subpoenaed or contacted by the FBI or U.S. attorney regarding her tenure as Burlington College's president.