A Republican running for Congress in western Massachusetts has been stressing the importance of fiscal responsibility and limited government while declining to divulge a court-approved personal bankruptcy that wiped out $140,000 in unpaid bills and $8,000 in unpaid income taxes.
Thomas Wesley of Hopedale, who is in a two-way race Tuesday for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District, was granted bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7 in Connecticut in 2000, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Wesley and his wife, Rebecca, had been unable to pay back a $100,000 business loan made by Fleet National Bank to Great Circle Trading Co., a Connecticut aerospace firm founded and operated by Wesley in the early 1990s. It was dissolved in 1999. Wesley also owed Wells Fargo $42,846 for a business loan.
“The American Dream has risk and reward, and it also has consequences,” Wesley told the AP in an interview. “I took the risk and suffered the consequences.”
His aerospace business had trouble selling imported items, Wesley said, and was unable to collect payments from companies abroad that purchased Great Circle’s products.
He said there was no hypocrisy in juxtaposing his campaign mantra with his personal history, adding, “This is why I am fiscally responsible person. … I learned a lot about carrying debt and inventory.”
He also denied trying to conceal the bankruptcy from voters. He said he mentioned it last November during an appearance before a conservative-leaning group, sparking an outpouring of sympathy for him.
Wesley is battling Jay Fleitman, a Northampton doctor, for the Republican nomination to face Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, in the Nov. 2 general election. Neal is a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and the former Springfield mayor has represented the western Massachusetts district since 1988.
On his campaign Web site, Wesley describes himself as an entrepreneur and a small businessman. He lists “making payroll” as the responsibility “he holds in the highest regard.”
He adds: “It has fostered a respect for fiscal responsibility and ensuring that the enterprise must thrive in order for that bond to be kept.”
Fleitman, his opponent, says Wesley often touts his business background at events where the two have appeared jointly, but has never heard him mention his bankruptcy.
“We have been straight out there about my background and my positions,” Fleitman said. “Voters have a right to know about a candidate’s character and background.”
Documents filed in conjunction with the bankruptcy indicate that in addition to the bank loans Wesley failed to pay, he owed the government another $6,737 in unpaid federal income taxes, as well as $1,270 in state income taxes for 1998.
The candidate told the AP he has “no knowledge” of the unpaid taxes, despite his signature on the documents.
“I have had a cordial relationship with the IRS,” Wesley said.
Neal has run unopposed since 1996, but both Wesley and Fleitman believe the district is ready for change. They point to statistics showing that Republican Scott Brown bested Democrat Martha Coakley in January’s special election to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy by a margin of 56 percent to 42 percent.
Neal refused to comment until after the GOP primary.