MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee man vowed to raise up to a half-million dollars for injured Wisconsin veterans, but now admits, he's hardly given any money to veterans at all! So what happened to the tens of thousands of dollars he claims to have raised?
Brian Michaud promised investors, advertisers and people who bought his "Double Up Passport" coupon books that they were helping injured veterans. Little did they know, they were giving money to a convicted felon who once robbed his own parents! A felon who used the cause of injured veterans to get a free house, a free van and free trips to Mexico for his friends.
If you’re a sucker for a good cause, Michaud is happy to talk. When the FOX6 Investigators asked him why his fundraiser for veterans doesn't seem to be helping veterans at all, he went on the attack.
"What you are doing right now is a witch hunt based on disinformation from somebody else who is the actual thief here," Michaud said.
Michaud is referring to his former business partner, Robert Weinzatl.
Weinzatl invested more than $14,000 in Michaud's fundraising business. Weinzatl met Michaud last fall at a Harley-Davidson event where Michaud was selling coupon books.
The so-called "Double-Up Passport" books contain more than 50 pages of buy one, get one free offers from local bars and restaurants. More importantly, proceeds from book sales were supposed to benefit injured Wisconsin veterans.
“Who’s gonna say no to vets? It got me," Weinzatl said.
The cause that convinced some prominent local bars and restaurants to advertise in the book.
"I have a lot of family that are veterans," Jonathan Chappel, owner of Daddy's Rockin' Steakhouse said.
"The significant part of it was to donate portions of these proceeds to the veterans,“ Jim Kasper, marketing director for Saz’s said.
"That's why we have what we have - our veterans," Al Dostal, owner of Amelia's said.
Michaud wanted more out of Weinzatl than a simple $15 book sale. He was looking for a business partner.
"He wanted 30,000 dollars. I didn't have 30,000 dollars," Weinzatl recalls.
Instead, Weinzatl scraped together $14,500 and threw in one of his residential investment properties for Michaud to use as office space. In exchange, Michaud promised Weinzatl "One Million (1,000,000) shares" of Double-Up Promotions.
"I was just jacked about doing something that was going to make me feel good about what I was doing," Weinzatl said.
It wasn’t until a month later that Weinzatl finally asked, 'How much have you actually donated to injured vets?' And we're going to his van and he's like, 'Well, I haven't donated anything right now, but I hope to one day.' It was a giant kick in the stomach," Weinzatl said.
It was also the end of the cordial business relationship between Weinzatl and Michaud. Weinzatl complained to the Better Business Bureau, which assigned an investigator to look into his claims.
"When you use the word 'cancer' or 'veteran,' people want to reach out with their pocket book and they don`t use their head, they use their heart," Ran Hoth, President of the BBB of Wisconsin said.
The BBB contacted a Vietnam vet named Jeff "Doc" Dentice. Doc runs a military website that serves as a clearinghouse for veterans’ causes in Wisconsin. He called or emailed hundreds of his personal veterans contacts around the state to ask if anyone had heard of Double Up 4 Vets or Double Up Promotions.
"That's American Legion, that's VFW, that's Am Vets, that's Wisconsin Vietnam vets, that's the Veteran's board, that's Chris with the vets. None of the groups, and that means any around this state, had ever received a dime. Not one," Doc said.
The BBB now gives Double Up Promotions an "F" rating.
"Usually there may be a small percent that actually goes to the actual mission, but this is highly unusual," Roth said.
FOX6 Investigators contacted all four organizations. None has received any donations from Double Up 4 Vets or Brian Michaud, and not one of them authorized Michaud to use their names in his coupon book. In fact, the state Department of Veterans Affairs ordered him to stop using their name in his promotions.
Michaud presents himself as a successful businessman. What he doesn't want you to know is that he's actually a convicted felon with a record of theft, forgery and resisting arrest. He's a former cocaine addict convicted of stealing from businesses, former employees, and roommates. He once robbed his own parents to pay off a drug debt.
Michaud owes more than $50,000 in court judgments for printing costs, legal fees, unpaid taxes and more. He's also a three-time drunk driver who’s not even supposed to be on the road, even though we spotted him numerous times behind the wheel of the company van.
"I didn't know he had that past," Weinzatl said.
Weinzatl has tried to kick Michaud out of his house - twice. He's failed twice. And it's all because of that "Subscription Agreement" that supposedly gives him one-million shares of Double Up Promotions. The agreement also allows Michaud to live and work in Weinzatl's house at 19th and Crawford - rent free - for a year.
During an eviction hearing on May 3rd, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Van Grunsven told Weinzatl that he is "not unsympathetic," but that "I have to follow the law." The judge told Weinzatl he's "the victim" of whoever drafted that agreement.
"Mr. Michaud wrote the agreement," Weinzatl explained.
"I know, but you signed it," the judge replied. "And that's part of the problem."
That’s not all Michaud’s gotten for free.
"He took advantage of the Boucher Group's generosity for Veterans," Chuck Olsen, an army veterans and salesman for Boucher Ford said.
Before Michaud got the van he's currently driving, Boucher Ford donated a different one back in the summer of 2010. Six months later, when Michaud could not produce evidence of any donations to veterans, the dealership repossessed it.
"No evidence of any veterans signage or anything on it, but he did put on 17,000 miles," Olsen said.
Funjet Vacations donated three trips to Mexico for a promotional contest. When the winners all booked their trips for the same day, Funjet got suspicious. FOX6 found the winners are all friends with direct ties to Michaud's girlfriend, so Funjet pulled the trips.
"People are legitimately trying to give, and what does he do? He runs with the money," Dentice said.
In some cases, he runs to the local casino.
"Oh, you are talking about one little thing on a bank statement from September," Michaud said.
Actually, it's seven little things. Bank records provided to FOX6 News by Weinzatl show that Michaud withdrew nearly $2,000 from the company account at a Potawatomi Casino ATM over the course of several weeks last summer. That includes three separate withdrawals just hours after Weinzatl gave him an initial investment of $9,000 in cash.
"By no means feel sorry for me. If anything, feel sorry for the vets, 'cause they're gettin' ripped off," Weinzatl said.
Michaud insists Weinzatl ruined him by stealing his inventory.
"He ripped us off from day one.That`s what you don't understand, from day one," Michaud said.
While Michaud delivers excuses, Weinzatl seems to be the only one delivering donations. The books were set to expire in March 2012. So last December, Weinzatl sold hundreds of Double-Up Passport books for $1 a piece. He says he gave what he made to the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee.
"I got rid of a lot of books, and I gave donations to the vets," Weinzatl said.
Now, Michaud is trying to take credit for that.
"That is not true that not a dime has gone to vets. Some has," Michaud said.
When FOX6 Investigators asked who got 'some' money, he replied, "The VA. The Milwaukee VA."
Michaud promised to set the record straight if only FOX6 Investigators could wait until after his eviction hearing for a sit down interview. The eviction hearing was held on May 3, 2012. When FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn tried to confirm the appointment after the hearing, Michaud ignored him.
The following week, Michaud failed to show up for the scheduled interview.
"It`s a disgrace," Dentice said.
"He disrespected all the veterans in Wisconsin, " Olsen said.
"He should be in jail," Dostal proclaims.
"It has to be fraud!" Weinzatl said.
"I set out to raise money for injured veterans!" Michaud said.
Michaud claims that he still intends to raise money for injured vets. However, since FOX6 first contacted him about this story, Michaud has removed all references to the words "vets" or "veterans" from his van. He has told advertisers for his new book that he’s going in a new direction.
"He did not explain why," Jonathan Chappel of Daddy's Rockin' Steakhouse said. "He just said the focus changed from the veterans to other organizations. He was very vague about it."
In a lengthy email to the FOX6 Investigators, Michaud claims that he will donate money to veterans this Memorial Day, though he won't say how much money he will donate or which organizations will get it.
CLICK HERE to read Michaud's entire email to the FOX6 Investigators, including answers to some specific questions about how much money he's raised and where that money has gone.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions has opened an investigation of Michaud to look into whether he committed securities fraud when he sold Weinzatl "one-million shares" of Double-Up Promotions.
Weinzatl says the state has discovered two other investors who gave Michaud at least $20,000 each, but the state would not confirm that - saying only that there is an ongoing investigation.