Kingdom Con kingpin sentenced to 5 years prison
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Ariel Quiros, the Florida businessman prosecutors say was the mastermind behind the largest fraud case in Vermont history, was sentenced in federal court in Burlington Friday to serve five years in prison.
The former owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts pleaded guilty two years ago to wire fraud, money laundering, and concealment of material information in the massive Ponzi scheme. Nine other charges were dropped in the plea deal. He had faced a maximum of nearly eight years in prison under the plea deal. In addition to the 60-month sentence, Judge Geoffrey Crawford also ordered Quiros to pay roughly $8 million in restitution and placed him under supervision for an additional three years.
Federal prosecutors in court described Ariel Quiros as the driving force behind the Kingdom Con, promising jobs at Jay Peak, Burke Mountain, and a state-of-the-art biotech company in Newport. And it was all funded by $450 million in half-million-dollar investments from scores of foreign investors hoping to cash in on green cards under the federal EB-5 program. But the promise to transform the Northeast Kingdom with money and jobs was all a sham.
Character witnesses speaking on behalf of Quiros said he was confused about his culpability and didn’t understand that he broke the law. Defense lawyers also highlighted Quiros’ military service in South Korea, where they say he took on cultural attributes including extreme loyalty, a characteristic he expected from others. They also argued that as the first person to plead guilty, his cooperation in the case against co-defendants Bill Stenger and William Kelly, should be rewarded.
But federal prosecutors laid out a different story, following the millions from investors to the ski resorts and AnC Bio, illustrating the shell game. They say Quiros played the biggest role in the fraud and knew the jobs the projects promised were a lie, while at the same time pocketing at least $30 million of the $85 million earmarked for the Newport project. They say he was “drunk with being rich.”
Quiros apologized in court for his actions, saying, “I regret being involved. I apologize to the court, the government, and most importantly to the state of Vermont.” But he made no apology to the investors, some of whom lost life savings.
“I think it’s obvious Mr. Quiros did everything he could to make amends for his conduct. We respect the judge’s decision,” said Quiros’ lawyer, Neil Taylor, outside the courtroom.
Quiros has already surrendered more than $80 million in assets, including both ski resorts, to settle a civil case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is the last of three men to be sentenced in the criminal case. William Kelly and Bill Stenger were recently sentenced and got 18 months each.
Although this chapter of the case is over, a number of questions remain - Who will eventually purchase Jay Peak and Burke from the federal receiver? Where is Alex Choi, the fourth partner who remains at-large? What will happen to the big hole in Newport? And what will become of the civil action against state leaders and regulators alleging they knew about the con but let it continue?
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