Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, is facing criticism over a “sweetheart deal” granted to a school founded by her daughter while president of the now-defunct Burlington College.
Carol Moore, who served as the final president of the college from 2014 until its closure in May 2016, says Jane Sanders approved a deal for the college with Vermont Woodworking School in 2009 that contributed to Burlington’s financial problems. Burlington College poured roughly $500,000 into the school between 2009 and 2012 to cover the costs of students taking furniture-making and woodworking design courses, reports VTDigger.
Carina Driscoll, Jane Sanders’ daughter, co-founded the woodworking school and served as president when the deal was made with Burlington. A formalized contract between the schools was only signed after Sanders left Burlington in 2011, by her successor Christine Plunkett. Federal investigators are conducting interviews over separate accusations Sanders defrauded a bank while serving as president of Burlington, leading to the school’s 2016 bankruptcy. (RELATED: Confirmed: FBI Is Conducting Even More Interviews Over Alleged Jane Sanders Bank Fraud)
“This was a sweetheart deal for Carina Driscoll, Jane Sanders’ daughter,” Moore told VTDigger. She felt the woodworking school was “gouging the college” and added it was “barely” profitable.
Burlington College paid for roughly half of the tuition of each student attending the woodworking school through their agreement. The woodworking school earned $460,000 in gross tuition the 2015-2016 fiscal year, half of-which went to Burlington College. Burlington used a portion of these funds to cover $143,300 in faculty costs at the woodworking school. Vermont Woodworking School made an $87,475 profit in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
A draft of Burlington’s budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year estimated Vermont Woodworking School would have roughly $400,000 in total expenses. The woodworking program became one of Burlington College’s largest expenses at the time of bankruptcy, according to VTDigger.
Driscoll denies any allegations of nepotism, saying the contract was signed after her mother left Burlington to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
“The program was profitable for the College and in its last couple of years, we were their only growing program,” Driscoll told VTDigger.
The claims regarding the Vermont Woodworking School come amid an ongoing FBI investigation into allegations of bank fraud during Mrs. Sanders tenure at Burlington.
Sanders stated in a 2010 loan application she had secured $2.6 million in promised donations to pay for a land purchase, which helped secure a $6.5 million loan from the People’s United Bank. Only $676,000 ever materialized over the next four years and the college defaulted on the loans, eventually going bankrupt in May 2016.
The ongoing investigation is allegedly weighing on Sen. Sanders’ decision whether or not to run for president in 2020, according to Politico.
Brady Toensing, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., made a formal request to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont and the Inspector General of the FDIC in January 2016 to investigate the allegations of fraud against Sanders. Among the evidence Toensing asked the U.S. Attorney to investigate were claims that the senator’s office pressured People’s United Bank to approve the $6.5 million loan.
Jeff Weaver, a representative of Sanders released a statement May 3 to Vermont Public Radio, saying the FBI had not yet contacted Jane Sanders and all they know about the allegations is what they have seen in the press.
TheDCNF reached out to Carina Driscoll and Sen. Sanders but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.
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