Compiled by MCJ Staff
State Rep. Mandela Barnes (11th Assembly District) is calling on Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to investigate and prosecute the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) for misuse and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
WEDC is the state’s lead economic development organization. It nurtures business growth and job creation in Wisconsin by providing resources, technical support, and financial assistance to companies, partners and the communities they serve.
“If our state government is claiming that it’s targeting waste and fraud, and then passing legislation that doubles- down on SNAP benefit recipients, I am confident our Attorney General will direct the Justice Department to investigate individuals who are buying gift cards, booze and football tickets and letting Wisconsin taxpayers foot the bill,” Barnes said in a statement commenting on the letter to Van Hollen.
In fact, Barnes notes in his letter, four companies received nearly one million of taxpayer dollars before their contracts with the State of Wisconsin had even been finalized.
“The reality is people are having a hard enough time paying bills. This is an egregious slap in the face (of Wisconsin citizens),” said Barnes, adding since its creation, WEDC has been the “standard-bearer for incompetence in regards to its mission, and as a steward of taxpayer dollars.”
Last week the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau unveiled its audit of the quasi-governmental agency, and revealed that the agency has been handing money to ineligible recipients for ineligible projects, as well as allowing their staff to purchase alcohol, tickets to Wisconsin Badger football games, and gift cards.
“Wisconsinites across our state continue to struggle in making ends meet from day-to-day,” Barnes wrote. “If this is somehow less illegal than a FoodShare recipient selling their food benefits for cash, I would ask that you please refer me to the statutory language that distinguishes this difference.
“Respectfully, if this was 100 dollars in food stamps, instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars to an agency, it would result in a prosecution and likely jail time.”
According to a story on Biztimes.com, Dana Brueck, communications officer for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, confirmed that the department’s State Capitol office received the letter Tuesday, but declined to comment about Van Hollen’s response.
“We’re not going to converse with Rep. Barnes through media outlets,” she said.