2016 Rewind: Another year, another WEDC scandal

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

There’s a reason why critics say Gov. Scott Walker’s “job creation” agency is really a corporate welfare agency that gives away millions to political donors without holding them accountable for creating jobs in return for the money. Discoveries of corruption and malfeasance are uncovered at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on a fairly regular basis, and 2016 was no different.

Well, it was different in one respect: Someone who fraudulently took money from WEDC was actually charged with a crime, although it was not for defrauding the state’s taxpayers. Instead, De Pere businessman Ron Van Den Heuvel was indicted for fraudently borrowing $700,000 from Horocan Bank (whose motto is: “the natural choice”). An accomplice in the scam turned state’s evidence in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Van Den Heuvel, a longtime Republican donor, got even luckier with WEDC, which handed him over $1.2 million. Due to his political connections, Van Den Heuvel never underwent a background check. If he had, WEDC, which was headed by Walker at the time, would have learned that he owed millions in legal judgments to banks, business partners, state tax officials and even a jeweler.

Van Den Heuvel’s modus operandi was borrowing money to pay for equipment and operations of seven businesses that he claimed to operate. But the money actually supported a lavish lifestyle that included a luxurious house, a Florida residence, expensive cars, a luxury box at Lambeau Field, a private plane, and a live-in nanny, who told authorities that she was never paid. She also said Kelly Van Den Heuvel ran up large debts on her credit cards.

Despite Van Den Heuvel’s failure to produce jobs or repay his initial loan, WEDC not only didn’t punish him but also considered giving him more money as recently as February 2015.

Horicon Bank was less generous, slapping him with a 13-count indictment.

That isn’t to say that WEDC did nothing about the scandal. WEDC CEO Mark Hogan enacted a gag order to prevent WEDC board members from talking about its operations.

Following a backlash, Hogan cited feedback from “various board members” in announcing that he would withdraw the order, which would have barred WEDC board members from talking to reporters or sharing information about the agency, which is taxpayer-funded.

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