Allan Kauffman, mayor of Goshen, Ind., announced Friday afternoon (July 9) that he was vetoing a tax phase-in approved for local businessman Carl Van Gilst after the facts of his proposed tenant’s criminal history came to light in the days following the Goshen City Council’s decision, the Goshen News reported.
“The reason that I’m vetoing it is because in the resolution, it states that one of the findings that’s in the state statute that the council has to make is that the jobs being promised can be reasonably expected to happen,” Kauffman said, “and I have to question that had the council known everything before the meeting that they’re learning now, would they have decided that they could reasonably expect these jobs to occur.”
The mayor said that if Van Gilst still wants to pursue the phase-in and the council wants to override the veto or reconsider the phase-in in another fashion, members would at least have more information with which to make their decision.
“If they still decide to give the tax abatement, I won’t stand in the way of that,” Kauffman said.
Van Gilst’s proposed tenant, Ray Belcher, 50, who recently relocated from Goshen to Warsaw, was convicted in 2008 of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his last company, Sturgis, Mich.-based Cikira RV. As part of his sentence, Belcher was ordered to pay more than $652,000 in restitution and barred from having any debt, either through credit cards or loans, and must even use a pre-paid cell phone.
Belcher said Friday he has worked out a payment plan and is not worried that it might interfere with his abilities to create a successful new company.
“Everything was taken into account with the business plan, and if anything, this will aid my ability (to pay the restitution),” Belcher said.
Belcher said his past has not and will not cause any problems and has no problem with the public knowing about it.
“I think people deserve to know,” he said. “And as far as vendors that I have talked to and dealers that have known me from the past, they are aware of my background and it doesn’t seem to affect their wanting to do business with me.
“Probably the majority of those people I’ve done business with for more than 20 years and they continue to offer support.”
City Council president Tom Stump said he is willing to look at the issue of Belcher’s ability to create the 25 jobs and investigate it further. Should the council hear positive information, he said, he could support still awarding the phase-in.
“We need to have somebody tell us — that’s knowledgeable about these things — that yes, under these circumstances, this man stands a good chance of succeeding in this business or no, he doesn’t,” Stump said. “At this point, I don’t know who that person would be.”
Stump said he suggested both to Van Gilst and to Goshen City Council member Darryl Riegsecker that if Van Gilst would provide a gentleman’s agreement or promise to return the money to the city and other taxing units if the jobs are not created, it would make supporting the phase-in much easier.
“If he would be willing to do that, I think that would provide an incentive for the council to go ahead and overturn the veto or provide another resolution,” Stump said.
Riegsecker is Van Gilst’s stepson and also the acting Realtor for the 2502 Dierdorff Road property. He was absent at the last council meeting and said he wouldn’t have voted on the issue even if he was there due to a conflict of interest.
Riegsecker was notified of some of Belcher’s history by Goshen city attorney Larry Barkes before Tuesday’s council meeting with the intention of having him relay the information to Van Gilst. None of the information, however, was mentioned at the meeting.
“I didn’t bring anything up because I was out of town during the meeting and I didn’t know whether the attorney was going to say anything or not, what they were going to bring up,” Riegsecker said. “We really didn’t know a whole lot. We knew he spent some time in jail for embezzlement, but to me he served his time, he got out of jail. So are you guilty your whole life?”
Riegsecker said what people need to understand most is that the phase-in is for Van Gilst, not for Belcher.
According to Kauffman, the reason Barkes didn’t mention anything at the meeting was because with the limited information available at that time, he didn’t feel it was the city’s responsibility to insert itself between two private individuals and their agreement.
“Now maybe if we had known everything ahead of time, Larry might have felt differently about that. I don’t know,” Kauffman said.
Stump said he will take the weekend to think more about the issue before calling the other council members to find out how they each feel.
“Maybe we need a special meeting to work some of these things out,” Stump said. “Maybe the council members feel so adamant against it and there’s no need to investigate it further. I haven’t talked to anyone but Darryl and I haven’t thought it through completely.”
For Belcher, the mayor’s decision to veto the phase-in was not a negative since the council would be looking deeper into the issue.
“I think that’s fantastic, I really do,” he said.
Belcher said his main problem is that the focus is not where it should be, in his opinion.
“The Goshen City Council made a positive move to bring business to the Goshen community and … it’s unfortunate that things would focus on me and not the importance of what happened at the City Council,” he said. “It is my past, and I think there will be some fantastic things that come out of it.”