MADISON (WKOW) -- A prominent lawmaker accused the state's consumer protection agency of committing its own fraud by spinning the public and elected officials about its activities.
State Rep. Robin Vos (R-Racine) blasted the Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP, for what he calls a "misleading" promotional brochure that he says could include "downright lies."
A WKOW investigation revealed the department's promotional brochure includes questionable calculations to portray how the department helps consumers recover money after filing a complaint.
"We need to be honest with consumers and not lead them on," said Vos. "The department has been trying to spin the legislature and the consumers of Wisconsin to say they're doing many good things for consumers... That's consumer fraud in and of itself. If we're going to say something, state government should live up to its word."
DATCP's promotional brochure says the average savings after calling its consumer complaint hotline is $968.
However, internal documents obtained by WKOW under a public records request reveal this average is based on surveys returned by 66 consumers.
That's far less than one percent of the total number of consumers who contact the state with fraud, scam and wrongdoing complaints every year.
40,000 consumers call the department's telephone consumer complaint hotline every year and 15,000 consumers file written complaints.
DATCP's public information officer, Lee Sensenbrenner, refused to disclose the number of consumers included in the $968 average after WKOW requested the information for more than one week. WKOW submitted a formal legal request for this public information after Sensenbrenner hung up the phone during a follow-up telephone request.
"My fear is that there are thousands of people out there who trusted state government by filing a form or contacting the department, that have gotten nothing in return," said Rep. Vos.
Survey results also reveal 67 consumers wrote they recovered "$0" -- nothing -- after filing a complaint with DATCP. However, the department threw out all those surveys from its promotional average.
"If they were [counted in the average], it would show bureaucracy is not doing what it says it's doing," said Rep. Vos.
According to WKOW calculations, if you include the 67 surveys from consumers who saved nothing after calling the hotline, DATCP's average savings falls to $308. This would still only include responses from 133 people, out of tens of thousands of consumers who contacted DATCP.
DATCP's brochure does not mention the number of consumers surveyed or the fact that the average is only based on surveys with positive results.
DATCP declined repeated requests for an interview for this story. In an email, Sensenbrenner wrote, "There are different ways to handle the data."
"What they're doing is the worst kind of fraud," said Rep. Vos. "They're not only frauding the public. But it sounds to me like they're putting a fraud over on elected officials who trust these numbers. We learned they're, at best, misleading, and at worst, downright lies."
You can read and watch WKOW's ongoing investigation into DATCP by clicking here to visit our special website.
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