As a teen working his first job as a grocery bagger in Pasadena, California, William “Duffy” Mich stood up to union bullies, and as an adult taking on powerful New York officials, he’d triumph over bullies again.
Mich single-handedly challenged a New York corporate welfare program, exposing corruption, ousting bad officials, and introducing safeguards to protect taxpayers in the future. For this work, he was honored at the State Policy Network’s Annual Meeting with the 2017 Vernon K. Krieble Unsung Hero Award.
“His effort illustrates a simple American principle: equality under the law,” said Shari Williams, executive director of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation. “William ‘Duffy’ Mich is an ordinary citizen who did extraordinary things by standing up to power and confronting the improper use of taxpayer money.”
Shari Williams, executive director of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, presents the 2017 Unsung Hero Award to Duffy Mich.
Mich’s fight began in 2013 when he noticed a $500,000 investment had been made in a near-insolvent tech startup that he and his wife had invested in several years earlier.
“I thought, ‘who would put money in that pig? I wouldn’t,’” Mich told Annual Meeting attendees.
After some digging, Mich discovered the money had come from a government-funded venture capital fund that was part of a larger corporate welfare program doling out millions of federal dollars through a state agency, Empire State Development. And the person responsible for managing one of the venture capital funds just so happened to be at the helm of the failing tech company that had received a half-million-dollar cash infusion. Later, Mich discovered this official had awarded taxpayer money to four of his own companies, three of which were on the verge of insolvency and one that had already stopped operating.
Mich took the matter up the chain of command at Empire State Development, quickly becoming the target of the corporation’s top official who urged him to keep quiet.
“I didn’t let myself get bullied at 14, so I certainly wasn’t going to let the ESD bully me at 60,” Mich said, referring back to his first job when his first employer tried to strong arm him into joining a union. “Game on!”
He continued to write more and more letters to the corporation and any politician or government agency that might have authority over the matter. The US Treasury Department audited the program and determined the investments were “a reckless misuse” of public funds and must be returned.
“We got ‘em,” Mich said, explaining that his work not only resulted in an order to return $1.63 million in taxpayer dollars, but cost multiple top officials their jobs.
Mich pledged to continue watching and demanding transparency until the final audit is issued and is working with the state senate majority leader on legislation requiring accountability and accurate job-creation reports in such programs.
“Getting the money back for federal taxpayers was a good thing,” Ken Girardin of the Empire Center for Public Policy wrote in his nomination of Mich. “But more importantly, (Mich) has given the freedom movement its most damning proof yet that governments shouldn’t be running venture capital operations.”
This year’s pool of nominees included thirty-four citizen policy entrepreneurs nominated by organizations from around the country. The Vernon K. Krieble Foundation recognized two runners up for the award. Sarah Jorgensen, nominated by the Yankee Institute, was awarded for fighting against Connecticut Governor Malloy’s attempt to create a new state agency with the ability to seize land and homes near bus stops and train station in the state through eminent domain. Ron Calzone, nominated by the Freedom Center of Missouri, was called a “citizen engagement innovator” for his role in defeating several anti-liberty measures by promoting free market solutions to public policy challenges.
Helen E. Krieble, president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, created the Unsung Hero Award seven years ago to recognize people doing their part to protect freedom by fighting government overreach. Through it, she has become an unsung hero in her own right.
“Helen’s strength is that she focuses on the fact that without everyday citizens doing their part, freedom disappears,” Williams said. “She created the Unsung Hero Award to honor true everyday heroes who do something to push back on the overreach of government. With this award, she hopes to inspire other freedom champions. And she asks all of us . . . to encourage more citizens to be responsible for holding government accountable. . . . . She is one woman who is doing her part.”