FBI investigating Orleans man

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copyright the Chronicle May 17, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ORLEANS — FBI agents went calling at the Orleans home of a man suspected of stealing from the Cabot Cooperative Creamery, and left with a trove of financial records, according to federal court documents.

Agents executed a search warrant at the home of Randy Swartz, the former maintenance manager at Cabot, and seized equipment and computers as well.

FBI Special Agent Patrick Hanna filed a request for the warrant in U.S. District Court in Burlington on March 9. In it, he laid out what he said were facts justifying the search of Mr. Swartz’s home, workshops, and computer files.

Mr. Swartz has not been charged with a crime, but the affidavit says he is under investigation for allegedly ordering equipment and parts for his personal business and charging them to Cabot.

According to the affidavit, one of Mr. Swartz’s subordinates went to creamery officials on January 25 and told them Mr. Swartz had been having parts Cabot paid for delivered to his home. He did not reimburse the company for the parts and had Cabot employees perform work for his private business on company time, Special Agent Hanna said.

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New law could speed Newport’s development

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copyright the Chronicle May 17, 2017

 

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Vermont House and Senate have come to an agreement on an economic development bill that, among other things, will permit the creation of six new tax increment finance zones.

“We shook on it, but haven’t signed it,” said Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, who was a member of the conference committee charged with ironing out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, S.135.

The zones, also known as TIF districts, are designed to help communities attract development without raising taxes on its existing Grand List. A town that needs to upgrade some of its infrastructure in order to attract new development issues bonds for the cost of the work.

It can then use additional tax revenue generated by the new development to pay off the bond.

That includes municipal taxes and, in the past, 75 percent of the state education tax collected on the new development. Under the new bill that percentage would fall slightly to 70 percent, leaving the education fund with another 5 percent.

Some legislators are concerned the TIF program takes too much money out of the state education fund, Mr. Marcotte said Tuesday. S.135 calls for the Legislature’s economist, fiscal office, and the state auditor to see what effect the districts have on a community’s economy.

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2017 Legislature has a new fan

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copyright the Chronicle May 10, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

EAST ALBANY — Many people complain about state regulations, but few are willing to take the time and trouble to go about changing them. Bill Pearce, the proprietor of Pearce’s Pastured Poultry has been raising, slaughtering, and selling chickens from his farm in East Albany for the past seven years.

State law allows growers to sell up to 1,000 birds to end users from their farm, without state inspection. Mr. Pearce recently sold part of his business to Hannah Pearce, one of his daughters, and realized that the two could not make ends meet if they could only sell 1,000 chickens.

“You can’t support yourself on that few birds,” he said.

Mr. Pearce said he has no problem with regulations about how birds are slaughtered, but having to pay for state inspectors would raise the price of his birds a dollar or more a pound.

He said he takes great pride in producing a clean bird, and sends a sample chicken from each batch he processes to the same lab the state uses to test poultry for e coli bacteria.

“We’ve really learned a lot by doing that,” Mr. Pearce said. The state has three categories for processed chicken, based on the amount of bacteria discovered by the lab. Acceptable means there is a minimal amount of e coli on the chicken, a somewhat higher amount garners a rating of marginal, unacceptable is the label for contaminated chickens.

“We were all over the place

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Trade case could lead to jobs at Columbia Forest Products

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Columbia Forest Products, along with several other manufactures of hardwood plywood, scored a preliminary victory in an international trade case that could mean as many as 70 new jobs at the company’s Newport veneer mill.

The Coalition for Fair Trade in Hardwood Plywood, which includes Columbia and five other producers, filed complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce Enforcement and Compliance arm, in November.

The group complained that Chinese manufacturers have been dumping their products in the U.S. and get unfair support from the Chinese government.

The coalition tried to get the commerce department to slap penalties on Chinese plywood in 2012. That effort ended in failure when the ITC ruled against the domestic producers.

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Congressman swings through Northeast Kingdom

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch brought his spring recess tour of the state to the Northeast Kingdom on April 20 with a visit to Derby and Newport.

The state’s only Congressional member asked local leaders what they need from the federal government, but the news he offered in exchange was not particularly good.

Mr. Welch said the budget President Donald Trump proposed completely eliminates two programs that have provided a great deal of benefit to the region in past years. They are the community development block grant program and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Both have brought millions of dollars to Vermont for infrastructure, housing, and other community projects.

Mr. Welch said both programs are especially important in rural states, noting that a number of his Republican colleagues represent such areas. The Congressman said he thinks it possible that a bipartisan coalition will keep the proposed cuts from going into effect.

He held his first meeting of the day in Derby, where officials from Derby, Newport, and Derby Center came together to tell Mr. Welch the kind of work they will need to do over the next few years to maintain basic services.

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Raymond James agrees to $150-million settlement

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copyright the Chronicle April 19, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

A year and a day after the federal and state governments filed civil charges connected with Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects, the receiver in the case announced a settlement intended to pay money owed to contractors and return the money invested in some failed enterprises.

Michael Goldberg, who was appointed to oversee businesses and other assets owned by Ariel Quiros, appeared at a press conference April 13 in Montpelier with Governor Phil Scott to announce an agreement with Raymond James & Associates, Inc., that could be worth as much as $150-million.

The same day, Raymond James posted the text of the settlement reached with Mr. Goldberg in a filing with the SEC. As a publically traded company, the financial services firm is required to disclose events, such as legal settlements, that may affect its business prospects.

Although it agreed to pay, Raymond James did not admit any wrongdoing.

According to the settlement documents, the company and the receiver have been discussing a settlement since last summer. Last June the Vermont branch of Raymond James reached a $5.95-million settlement with the state. That money will be subtracted from the $150-million the national firm is to pay out.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Mr. Goldberg said he is pleased with the settlement, but said it had taken a lot of hard work to come to terms.

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Environmental ruling boosts expansion of Coventry landfill

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

COVENTRY — The District #7 Environmental Commission issued a ruling on April 5 that could give a boost to the New England Waste System of Vermont’s effort to add 50 acres to the state’s only remaining landfill. The decision, signed by commission Chair Eugene Reid, says the property owned by New England Waste System, which includes a nearby solar array, is properly classified as an industrial park.

The decision could lower the fees the landfill’s owner must pay to mitigate the loss of primary agricultural soils from the $635,000 demanded by the state Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets to about $145,000.

New England Waste asked the district commission to weigh in on the issue before it goes further with its plans to enlarge the landfill in the direction of Northeast Kingdom International Airport.

The commission ruled the landfill is part of an industrial park, but it has not answered the second question New England Waste put to it — how many acres must the landfill pay for mitigating.

Vermont law says damage to primary agricultural soils can be mitigated through a payment to the state’s Housing and Conservation Fund. The state’s current mitigation fee is $1,325 an acre.

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Lawsuit claims EB-5 fraud started in 2008

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

BURLINGTON — Two investors in EB-5 projects at Jay Peak Resort claim that securities fraud at the ski area started in 2008 when Ariel Quiros paid for the resort using money meant to build hotels. They also say Jay Peak’s former owner had to know what was going on.

Antony Sutton and a man referred to only as John Doe filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Vermont on April 7 and charged Saint-Sauveur Valley Resorts, Inc., the former owner, with turning a blind eye as Mr. Quiros paid with money that they told him was meant solely for improvements to the resort.

The two want Saint-Sauveur to return $21.9-million they claim it first gave to Mr. Quiros and then improperly accepted as payment when he bought the resort from the Canadian company.

Mr. Sutton invested $500,000 in Jay Peak Hotel Suites LP (Phase I), and Mr. “Doe” put the same amount into Jay Peak Hotel Suites II LP (Phase II).   Both projects raised money through the federal EB-5 visa program, which trades investments in job-creating companies for a U.S. Green Card and a path to citizenship.

The first two of what would eventually be seven such projects were started by Saint-Sauveur and taken over by Mr. Quiros when he bought Jay Peak.

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Can Newport emulate St. Albans’ renewal?

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Hall is an elegant structure, dating from the time it was known as the Railroad City. The high ceilings and tall wooden doors are indications of a past when citizens flaunted their community’s wealth through architecture.

Today city hall has just undergone a $2.3-million renovation and emerged as a stunning reminder of the past and a declaration of St. Albans’ present day ambitions.

City Manager Dominick Cloud has an office on the second floor looking out over Main Street. From his window he can point to a pair of the projects that are part of the city’s plan to remake itself. To the left, Mr. Cloud can point to a large Ace Hardware store.

He explained that the city bought the land where the store is, tore down a vacant building, and found a buyer, who was looking to expand an existing store.

To the left, Mr. Cloud indicated an empty lot and three vacant buildings that he hopes will soon get the same treatment.

The two examples hint at the larger strategy the city has been putting into practice over the past several years, taking calculated risks designed to expand St. Alban’s Grand List and make the downtown look sharper and more welcoming.

So far, Mr. Cloud said, St. Albans has invested $16-million and added $50-million to the Grand List.

“It’s a pretty good return,” he conceded.

St. Albans’ track record has certainly caught the eye of leaders in Newport, who hope to make use of the lessons it has learned as they look for ways to reinvigorate their city’s downtown.

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Newport Center approves water bond

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT CENTER — Voters here gave the nod to a plan to provide an ample supply of safe drinking water to residents of the village of Newport Center. In balloting Tuesday, town residents approved a $745,000 bond by a vote of 95 to 13. One hundred nine out of 1,316 people on the checklist voted.

The money will pay for two new wells, a treatment facility to remove arsenic and manganese from water, and the electrical and plumbing connections needed to keep the new wells flowing.

At an informational meeting held at the town offices March 30, Steve Barrup, who chairs the select board, said the village water board has applied for grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program to help pay the cost of the system.

Because Newport Center is part of the Rural Economic Area Partnership Program (REAP) zone, comprised of Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia counties, it’s eligible for grants that could cover up to 75 percent of the project’s cost. The hitch, Mr. Barrup said, is the USDA will not consider a request unless a municipality has authorized a bond for the project.

With the positive vote, the town can wait to see what size grant it gets before deciding whether to go forward with the project, Mr. Barrup said.

The entire town must vote for the bond because it will continue to exist even if all the water department’s customers leave the area, he said.

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