New recreation center opens at a Vermont ski resort rocked by fraud

This April 18, 2016 photo shows Jay Peak Resort.
This April 18, 2016, photo shows Jay Peak Resort. –Lisa Rathke / AP

JAY, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont ski area rocked by investment fraud that halted development there celebrated the opening on Wednesday of a new attraction — a movie theater and climbing gym.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott and other officials marked the opening of the Clips and Reels Recreation Center that is among the last of the Jay Peak ski area’s developments linked to a special visa program. The EB-5 visa program can lead to permanent U.S. residency for foreign investors who finance projects that create a certain number of jobs.

In 2016, Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros, of Miami, and then-Jay Peak president William Stenger were accused of misusing more than $200 million raised from foreign investors through the program, rattling Jay Peak and the Northeast Kingdom region.

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“These new state-of-the-art attractions will bring thousands of visitors and account for millions in tourism dollars for the Northeast Kingdom during all four seasons in the many years to come,” Scott said. “The completion of these projects is a huge step forward for the community as it continues to recover.”

Earlier this month, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Quiros had agreed to pay back more than $81 million and give up ownership of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain ski resorts. The proposed settlement must be approved by a court. Stenger, of Newport, Vermont, agreed to pay a $75,000 penalty. He was not alleged to have personally profited from the fraud, the SEC said.

Quiros faces other claims from investors, Vermont and a federal receiver overseeing the ski resorts.

The new movie theater and climbing gym were built with funds from a $150 million settlement with Raymond James Financial Inc. that also went to pay contractors and to finish building condominiums. Another $3 million of the settlement will fund the creation of two athletic fields for soccer and lacrosse at Jay Peak.

After the charges were announced two years ago, state officials wondered if the resort would remain open.

“To have this type of outcome two years later is truly amazing,” said Michael Pieciak, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

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“This area — the Northeast Kingdom — is much better, much better off, much stronger than it was just 10 years ago when you look around,” Scott said.

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This story has been corrected to show the celebration was Wednesday, not Tuesday.

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