By Daniel Bice of the Journal Sentinel Updated: June 24, 2011
Gov. Scott Walker has called off plans to sign the 2011-’13 budget bill at a private Green Bay-area company run by an executive with eight felony convictions, a spokesman announced today.
The announcement came less than an hour after the Journal Sentinel contacted the governor’s office to ask about the executive’s criminal history.
Walker aide Cullen Werwie said this afternoon that the event will now be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fox Valley Metal-Tech Inc. in Green Bay.
Werwie acknowledged that Walker’s advance team had erred by not conducting a thorough background check on Gregory A. DeCaster, chief executive officer of Badger Sheet Metal Works in Ashwaubenon, the original location for the ceremony.
DeCaster was convicted of eight felony counts of income tax evasion in the mid-1990s and was sentenced to three months behind bars. He was also fined $10,000, ordered to pay another $3,700 to cover prosecutors’ expenses and given two years of supervised release.
“It was something we wish we would have known on the front end,” Werwie said.
He said officials decided to change locations because they believed DeCaster’s past tax problems would serve as too much of a distraction.
“We just want to ensure that the focus of the governor signing the budget is on creating 250,000 new jobs, not about other things,” Werwie said.
Earlier today, DeCaster’s office called the governor’s advance team members to alert them to the potential problem, Werwie.
Reached by No Quarter, he was frank about his past troubles. He was charged with 12 felony counts, and a jury found him guilty of eight of them in April 1995. All counts had to do with evading income taxes or filing false tax returns.
“It was a horrible thing to go through,” DeCaster said. “But it made us better – better controls.”
DeCaster, who has run the metal company since his father’s death in 1983, placed the blame for the problems on a former bookkeeper. But said he had to do time because his name was on the tax returns.
“It was a mistake, but what the hell? That’s what happens,” DeCaster said. “It’s a small business. One minute you’re cleaning the bathroom, and the next minute you’re doing this and that. We still wear many hats. We wish to have a lean corporation here.”
Walker had been scheduled to sign the budget at DeCaster’s company at 2 p.m. Sunday in a private ceremony.
Werwie initially said he had no knowledge of the CEO’s past legal troubles when contacted by the paper shortly before noon.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch had been quoted earlier in the day praising the metal company, calling it an exemplar of Wisconsin values.
“Green Bay, and certainly the company that we’re going to, reflects really what this budget and what Governor Walker’s first term here is all about,” Huebsch told Wispolitics. “We are going to get Wisconsin working again.”
DeCaster, 57, said he was a supporter of the governor during the 2010 election but gave him no campaign cash. He said Walker held an event at Badger Sheet Metal during the campaign last year.
Originally, Walker’s camp said the signing was scheduled for Sunday because that is when his vetoes will be finalized and when it fits best in his calendar. The governor thought it was important to sign the budget at a manufacturer to emphasize the budget’s focus on job creation, Werwie said.
Since January 2010, Badger Sheet Metal has more than doubled its sales and staff. It now employs 102 workers.
“There’s not one thing for us to be ashamed of,” DeCaster said.