Court records that show Democratic candidate Andy Gronik was fired by his father and sued by his former business partner for allegedly fraudulent behavior are being seized upon by Republicans to discredit his fledgling candidacy.
The new revelations, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a story Tuesday, hit at the heart of Gronik’s campaign message that he’s an accomplished business leader with the vision to lead the state.
Gronik is one of several Democrats running for a chance to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year.
Gronik defended his record Tuesday, saying he was proud of his business success. But Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman called the revelations “damning” and urged Gronik “to come clean with the people of Wisconsin” over “glaring misrepresentations of his business record.”
Other announced Democratic candidates steered clear of the news. The campaign manager for state Superintendent Tony Evers did not respond to an email seeking comment, and the campaign manager for state Rep. Dana Wachs said he had no comment.
The Journal Sentinel reported on evidence and testimony from a 2012 lawsuit filed by Gronik’s longtime business partner Richard Schmitt accusing Gronik of “unjust enrichment” after he missed hundreds of days of work but was still paid a salary and benefits worth more than $1 million.
The case went to trial, but Gronik sold his interest in AccuVal Associates, an appraisal company, and LiquiTec Industries, a liquidation firm, to Schmitt in 2013 before a decision was reached. Terms of the sale are private.
The court filings reveal that Gronik and Schmitt worked together at Gronik’s father’s auction and appraisal business in Milwaukee for four years before they tried to buy his father out. Gronik told the court that he was fired by his father and Schmitt quit.
Gronik and Schmitt formed AccuVal and LiquiTec in 1988. They had a falling-out after Gronik began missing hundreds of days at work, absences he attributed to a flare-up of his Crohn’s disease caused by mold in a house he bought in 2009.
Gronik filed a federal lawsuit against the former owners of the house in Fox Point that took five years to resolve.
Gronik didn’t argue that he was paid during the leave of absence. Instead, he argued that he tried to return that money and that Schmitt was trying to force him out of the business so he could dissolve the companies and retire to Florida.
Schmitt argued in court that Gronik’s collection of salary and benefits despite missing months of work in 2010 and 2011 was “illegal, oppressive and fraudulent.”
Gronik, in an emailed statement Tuesday, didn’t address specific allegations made in the lawsuit. Instead, he referenced his own legal battle over mold in the house he bought, saying “when I was confronted with very difficult circumstances, I stepped away from my business to stand up for my family and for the things I believe in. I’ve done this my entire life.”