Proposal Would Institute Criminal Penalties For Fraud Against WEDC

Violators Could Face Prison Time, 50K Fine For Intentional Misrepresentation

Wisconsin State Capitol
Photo Phiend (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Business owners could go to prison for defrauding the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation under a proposal circulating at the state Capitol.

The bipartisan bill is aimed at penalizing business owners who apply for state grants to support their business, but use the money for something else, such as personal expenses.

Individuals who commit such fraud would face up to 15 years in prison and a $50,000 fine under the plan.

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Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, is one of the bill’s sponsors. She said she believes deterrents should be in place to prevent fraud from happening, whether it’s to the state’s FoodShare program or grants to businesses.

“When somebody frauds the government and does it in a way that it’s an intentional fraud, I believe there should be consequences for your actions,” Kerkman said.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, is the bill’s state Senate sponsor. He said the proposed measure is about fairness.

“There seems to be a real effort, and we’ve seen it a lot, to crack down on the poor and working families in the state when they apply for benefits like unemployment and FoodShare, but there’s not much of one when it comes to holding the wealthy and corporations accountable for their actions when they apply for taxpayer assistance,” Hansen said.

The bill would also make violators ineligible for economic development benefits for seven years and authorize WEDC to bring civil action in court to recover damages.

A similar bill passed the state Assembly last session, but never cleared the Senate.