Written by LISA RATHKE Associated Press
Investment management company Merrill has agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle allegations over its handling of accounts used related to fraud in northern Vermont developments that involved foreign investors’ money, the state of Vermont announced Friday.
A motion seeking approval of the settlement agreement was filed Thursday in federal court in Florida.
The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation alleged that Merrill’s administration of accounts represented potential violations of the Vermont Securities Act, the department said. Merrill had no comment on the settlement, said spokesperson Christopher Feeney.
In 2016, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and the state of Vermont accused Ariel Quiros, then owner of Jay Peak, and president William Stenger of taking part in a “massive eight-year fraudulent scheme,” misusing more than $200 million of about $400 million raised from foreign investors through the EB-5 visa program.
The visa program encourages foreigners to invest in U.S. projects that create jobs in exchange for a chance to earn permanent U.S. residency.
Quiros and Stenger settled civil charges with the SEC, with Quiros surrendering more than $80 million in assets, including Jay Peak and Burke Mountain ski areas. The two men and an adviser to Quiros were later indicted in 2019 over a failed plan to build a biotechnology plant in northern Vermont using millions of foreign investors’ money raised through the visa program.
“This is another good settlement for the Jay Peak investors and provides further restitution to help mitigate the financial impact caused by Ariel Quiros and Bill Stenger,” said Vermont Financial Regulation Commissioner Michael Pieciak in a statement.
The court-appointed receiver overseeing the ski areas who helped negotiate the settlement noted in the court filing that his investigation showed that the potential claims against Merrill “involve disputed facts that would require substantial time and expense to litigate, with significant uncertainty as to the outcome of such litigation and any ensuing appeal.”
Quiros, of Key Biscayne, Florida, pleaded guilty in 2020 to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and the concealment of material information and will serve just over eight years in prison. Stenger pleaded guilty to providing false documents and faces up to five years in prison.