Jane Sanders, former Burlington College president and wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), remains in the spotlight as a federal probe continues into a 2010 land purchase she orchestrated that left the college in significant debt and has been cited as the proximate reason for its closure.
A grand jury, which would determine whether indictments should be handed down in the case, has compelled sworn witness testimony in the case, VTDigger reports. Former Burlington College board member Robin Lloyd testified before a grand jury for an hour on Oct. 26, 2017 at the Federal Courthouse in Burlington, Vermont, and is the first public confirmation a grand jury has been compelled.
Loyd, who is publisher of the left-leaning website Toward Freedom and served as was the development chair for Burlington College, took meeting notes as part of her board duties.
Questions over the deal steam back to 2010 when Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Buildings Finance Agency (VEHBFA) issued tax-exempt bonds to cover a loan taken out for the lakefront property. VEHBFA director Robert Giroux, who has since retired, was subpoenaed for documents for documents involving the loans. Sanders’ role in the deal was to collect donations and pledges for the purchase of the property. Before Sanders left the college–with substantial compensation from the board of trustees–the institution defaulted on the loan.
Paul Van Graaf, the chief of the criminal division for the U.S. attorney’s office in Vermont, questioned Lloyd about the timeline of Sanders collecting donations and pledges for the $10 million property. Lloyd told VTDigger the questions were also "focused on what I knew about who had been approached for contributions."
"I helped provide a timeline of what happened — and when — in terms of development," Lloyd said. "It was general questions about donors, and money coming in."
"They said this is not about you," Lloyd continued. "I wasn’t offered immunity, but I was also assured that I didn’t need to feel I had something to worry about."
The land deal's success relied on pledged donations and increased enrollment projections collected by Sanders. The former president ultimately overstated projected donations in the VEHBFA loan documents. Multiple donors' personal records showed they gave less than what Sanders reported.
Donor Corinne Bove Maietta, who Lloyd was asked about during questioning, was reported in the loan application of pledging to give a series of cash payments totaling $1 million over a period. Maietta disputed ever pledging that amount, but a former college vice president stands by the reported pledge.
Maietta said she agreed to give the college an unspecified amount in the case of her death as a bequest, adding she never signed a formal pledge agreement with the college.
Lloyd wasn’t aware if others had been called to testify. VEHBFA attorney James Foley told VTDigger last week that Giroux has not been called to testify.
"Since the day we submitted the documents to the Feds, we haven’t heard a peep," Foley said. "I didn’t even hear, ‘Thank you.’"
Former Burlington College board chair Yves Bradly also confirmed he had not been invited either and it had remained "completely quiet" since an initial visit with the FBI and FDIC.
"It’s been completely quiet since I got an October visit from the FBI and the FDIC," Bradley said.
Grand jury proceedings are typically secret and witnesses may or may not publicly speak about their own testimony, according to VTDigger.
A grand jury is typically convened following evidence gathering and investigation by the government. The prosecutor presents an outline of the government’s case to the jury, which may include evidence and live witness testimony. The jury then must determine whether there is probable cause of criminality, and whether an individual should be put on trial. A grand jury is typically comprised of between 16 to 23 members who are selected at random. Witnesses testify under oath. An indictment is only issued if at least 12 jurors are in agreement, according to the Department of Justice.
The proceedings of the grand jury are typically secret, although witnesses are permitted to discuss their own testimony. The outcome is only known if an indictment is handed down. Prosecutors often bring high profile cases to a grand jury in order to insulate a probe from charges of favoritism. Kraig LaPorte, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont, declined to comment on the investigation.
Bernie Sanders' campaign manager and family spokesman Jeff Weaver on Sunday told Vermont paper Seven Days that there is nothing new in the case despite Lloyd’s testimony being the first confirmation of a grand jury.
"We have absolutely no reason to believe that there is a grand jury empaneled to examine Burlington College, Jane Sanders, or any aspect of Dr. Sanders’ service as president of Burlington College. As best we can tell, the current news reports are simply recycling an account of a government interview of a witness from several months ago. Nothing new here," Weaver said.