De Pere businessman denies fraud involved in $1.2 M state loan

The office of Green Box is seen in De Pere, Oct. 15, 2015. (WLUK/Andrew LaCombe)

A Green Bay-area businessman suspected of defrauding Wisconsin's economic development agency says he's behind on loan repayments to the state but hasn't committed any crimes.

Ron Van Den Heuvel, founder of Green Box NA Green Bay LLC, is being investigated for possible theft and securities fraud against several parties, according to search warrants executed by the Brown County Sheriff's Department. Among them is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private entity created by Gov. Scott Walker in response to what he described as an economic emergency when he took office in 2011.

The WEDC loaned Green Box $1.2 million in October 2011 to develop technology that Van Den Heuvel said would produce recycled products, electricity and even diesel from fast-food waste. The warrants, first obtained by the State Journal, provide confirmation that law enforcement officials are investigating Van Den Heuvel and his company for allegedly misrepresenting itself to WEDC.

Van Den Heuvel said Thursday his company is "a couple months" behind on repaying the state loan, but there was no intent to defraud anyone.

"No, not at all. The WEDC gave me the million because I've been very successful in building companies," he said.

According to the court documents, a large part of the loan was transferred to bank accounts for other business entities and was used to pay Van Den Heuvel's personal and business debts related to Green Box.

The WEDC had secured interest in all of Green Box's personal property in making the loan and the company, in turn, was to keep the collateral free from liens and other security agreements, but Van Den Heuvel "pledged and re-pledged WEDC's collateral to other creditors multiple times over," the warrants alleged.

"I did not defraud WEDC out of a dime, and they will be paid back in full," Van Den Heuvel told FOX 11 off camera Thursday.

Van Den Heuvel says is $105,000 behind on loan repayment.

The Green Box deal was among the early loans made by the WEDC. But Democrats have criticized the agency, alleging it failed to adequately look into Green Box.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. "We've heard about so many other cases and this is one that it doesn't seem like it was vetted at all, that they set up an arrangement to get money. And whatever he owes, he owes, and hopefully he'll pay it, but we've got to do a better job."

Now Hansen plans to write a bill that would create specific penalties for defrauding WEDC.

Republicans have also talked about writing a similar measure, but they say WEDC itself is moving forward.

"We can always do better but they are substantially better than they were prior to 2013 but we're looking forward to making it even more responsive and better," said State Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview.

As for what's next in the investigation into Van Den Heuvel, Wisconsin's attorney general office, the Dane County district attorney and the Brown County district attorney all had no comment for FOX 11 Thursday.

Van Den Heuvel owed millions of dollars in legal judgments to banks, business partners, state tax officials and even a jeweler. Patents it said it owned are listed as belonging to other entities, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Van Den Heuvel insists those patents are still pending.

He said the search warrants were broad reaching and that investigators "went after everything." He said Green Box is a viable company, employing more than 100 people in the Green Bay area.

The search warrants were released in Brown County on Wednesday, 90 days after a judge had sealed the documents.

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