... and the State either knew it or should have known it.
This is not a post about whether or not Governor Markell should or should not have invested our tax dollars in stimulating industry and job growth. That sort of decision will always be debatable along party/ideological lines, and--in fact--all rhetoric to the side both major parties do so on a regular basis.
This is about what appears to have been outright fraud--fraud that should have been easily detectable.
Over the past several years I have spoken, independently, to about a half dozen Fisker employees, all of whom were experienced auto workers and most of whom had previously worked at the Boxwood Road plant. The earliest was at a Conrad High School football game 2 1/2 years ago; the latest was yesterday.
All of them told exactly the same story.
It goes like this:
In all the time they worked for Fisker, none of the old machinery was removed from the plant. No new machinery was installed. Think about that for a second. To retool a conventional (and elderly) automobile production facility to produce an entirely different line of vehicles is a massive undertaking. It had happened several times in the history of the Boxwood Road plant, and that was just to change between different vehicles in the same line of cars. The Fisker vision was a completely different type of vehicle. And yet there were no significant changes made to the facility, according to people who worked there.
(In a way I can verify this personally. Two years ago I had a niece who went to Conrad and I drove by the plant on an almost daily basis. You never saw deliveries being made there. Never. My niece's best friend lived a block from the plant. Her family said they never saw deliveries being made there.)
So what did the employees do? "Mop the floor" is what I have been told by multiple workers. Mop the damn floor. They would come in, mop the floor and clean the windows for two hours, take a break, get up when a manager came through, and mop the floor again. Then they'd take a 2-3 hour lunch before mopping the floor again during the afternoon.
As one of them told me, "They might not ever have produced any cars, but they had the cleanest floor of any automobile factory ever."
There were apparently a couple of areas set up as display areas, where there were big charts and diagrams showing the kind of machinery that would some day be delivered, and how the assembly line would some day look--but tomorrow never came. Visiting dignitaries came, looked at the charts, listened to the spiel, shook hands with the smiling workers.
And apparently never asked why there was no machinery being installed to manufacture cars.
Why, one wonders, did none of these factory workers ever come forward publicly or drop a dime to the District Attorney's office ... or something?
First, I don't know for sure that none of them did, but two of them explained it to me thus:
"We've all been laid off before. We've all seen our families go through tough times, and we've all had our unemployment run out before. As long as they were paying us to feed our families, we weren't going to blow the scam." Almost embarrassed, one of them told me: "I thought of it as the two years of unemployment benefits I never got before."
I don't actually blame them: if a private employer wants to pay you to show up and not work, who wouldn't take the money?
But then one wonders about the due diligence supposed to have been exercised by the State, especially given our multi-million dollar investment. There seem to be three, and only three, possibilities:
1. All of the employees and former employees who spoke to me were exaggerating, lying, or mistaken. It's possible, I guess, that the Fisker plant is actually brimming with new equipment that they really did intend to use to produce new cars. Of course, I've never even seen a picture of it ...
2. State authorities were so overconfident and so lax in their exercise of due diligence that they either never seriously examined the situation, or were taken in by the "show" areas of the facility. That would be disturbing.
3. State authorities figured out what was going on, and decided to remain silent. In this scenario you never know how many state officials figured it out, or at what level. Maybe they feared for their jobs if they told Jack Markell or Al Levin. Maybe political considerations kept people from talking. Maybe the fact that some people had jobs was considered a good enough return on our investment, even if Fisker ultimately decided to build the car of the future in China.
But you do have to wonder: beyond the occasion campaign reference, beyond the occasional editorial or letter to the editor, why the General Assembly has never conducted an investigation to determine if Fisker ever seriously intended produce cars or significant car parts in Delaware?
$25 million in tax money would have produced a lot of construction jobs if put toward major caps or transportation funding. $25 million would have closed some of the holes in Delaware's Medicaid coverage. $25 million would even have been an economic stimulant back in the hands of Delaware taxpayers.
$25 million to Fisker--even if some of it eventually gets repaid--is money down the toilet in pursuit of an opportunity that now seems more and more to always have been a chimera.
Maybe it wasn't such a bright idea to turn economic development in Delaware over to the guy who gave us all those Walgreens ...