Gov. Scott Walker says he supports a bipartisan bill that would make providing fraudulent information to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation a crime.
WEDC has been plagued with scandals and failures since Walker created it after his first election to replace the Department of Commerce. Intended as a job-creation agency, WEDC gave more about 60 percent of its loans to Walker contributors without requiring them to create jobs in the state and losing track of at least $24 million that it awarded.
The fraud bill would make providing a false statement on an application for grants, loans or other WEDC benefits punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill also would make anyone who commits such fraud ineligible for WEDC benefits for seven years.
Walker told reporters after speaking at a dairy conference at a Madison convention center that whoever gives fraudulent information to the state should face consequences.
Walker donor William Minahan got a $500,000 WEDC loan in 2011 after checking “no” when asked if his company or any of its officers had been sued in the last five years. Online court records show three lawsuits.
An audit showed that Walker appointees pushed the agency to give Minahan even more money — after the agency learned that he’d pledged agency funds to pay for a lease on a Maserati sports car. The company defaulted on the loan from the state, and WEDC failed to attempt collecting it.
The agency also handed out $1.2 million in grants and loans to Green Box NA Green Bay LLC after the company said it could turn dirty plastic forks and ketchup-stained napkins into jobs.
But it appears that the agency didn’t look deeply enough into the company; founder Ron Van Den Heuvel owed millions in legal judgments to banks, business partners, state tax officials and even a jeweler. In February 2015, the agency considered giving Green Box additional incentives.
Ever since the audits that found mismanagement at WEDC were released to the public, the Walker administration and the Legislature’s Republican majority have been trying getting rid of government oversight committees and create new policies that allow lawmakers to withhold their emails and other information from the public.