Editors note: Why are we reporting this story? Our mission at Wisconsin Right Now is to present primary voters with the facts. If Republicans don’t vet their candidates, it will end up as a Democratic October surprise.
Not vetting candidates is how we got Brian Hagedorn. Candidates should not fear tough questions when there are good answers that adhere to conservative values. It’s better for Michels to give answers now, not in October. We have not picked a horse in the GOP primary, running positive articles on Tim Michels, Kevin Nicholson, Rebecca Kleefisch and Tim Ramthun.
Michels’ campaign will not answer ANY questions about this topic. They won’t say where Michels was living the past nine years and blocked us from getting close enough to ask him ourselves. If there is a simple explanation, they have refused to provide it for more than a week. That fortified our decision to run this story. Wisconsin voters have a right to know this information.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels left some key facts out of his campaign biography: Namely, a $17 million Long Island Sound home located in a Greenwich, Connecticut neighborhood. The home was purchased in October 2020 through an oddly named LLC that makes ownership hard to trace. However, we have uncovered a building permit buried in a tranche of public documents that lists the owners as Tim and Barbara Michels.
Furthermore, from 2013-2021, all three Michels children attended and graduated from high schools in Connecticut and New York City, Wisconsin Right Now has documented. They are not boarding schools, and the kids were extensively involved in high school sporting activities there.
The youngest son graduated from a Greenwich high school in 2021, where he was on the sailing team, skippering yachts. That’s just the start of the family’s extensive east coast lives over the past decade. Tim and Barbara Michels accumulated more than $30 million in homes in Connecticut and New York City, with some of the ownership hidden through LLCs.
Michels and his wife gave Weill Cornell Medicine in New York a large donation last year in honor of their daughter’s inspirational recovery from brain cancer. A story on that gift reveals, “By 2017, the family was living in the New York area…” That article describes the family as “natives of Wisconsin.”
Yet when Michels announced for governor, it was widely reported that he lives in Wisconsin, a point he emphasized in a news conference last month. The family’s ties to New York and Connecticut were not reported in the media, and he did not mention them.
Why this matters:
The findings raise a host of questions. Where did Tim Michels and his wife live since 2013? Did Michels and his wife pay state taxes and vote as Wisconsin residents? He and his wife, Barbara, are registered to vote only in Wisconsin. We continue to pursue tax and voting records; we asked the campaign for the former, but they did not respond.
Voters have the right to know if a candidate for Wisconsin governor actually lived in the state over the past decade. One would think a campaign could easily answer these questions.
Michels’ wealth was largely accumulated through public projects and taxpayer money, including more than $1 billion from the State of Wisconsin; his company builds roads and pipelines. Some contracts have been controversial, including alleged double bidding.
We have heard several times that Michels’ relocation may have been tied to a massive project involving the New York subway system. It’s true that Michels Corp. received a $201 million contract in July 2013 to help complete a “multi-billion dollar infrastructure project bringing the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central Terminal.” According to the company’s website, however, the Manhattan project ended in 2016. The Blue Book network also says the project ended in March of 2016.
The couple purchased a New York penthouse while the subway project was happening. However, the subway project had ended before they purchased the two Connecticut homes, and their daughter and youngest son graduated from high schools out east after its completion.
To be sure, it’s not unusual for wealthy people to own multiple houses and navigate among them. There’s no crime in being rich; it’s the American dream. One is tempted to say that Michels could respond, “So what? I own a vacation home in Connecticut,” even though it is a large one.
However, the fact that Michels’ juvenile children lived in New York City and Connecticut for nine years, attending high school there, makes that harder to believe (and Michels has provided no explanation.) The three children were heavily involved in tennis, yachting, and swimming during their high school years out east.
Dartmouth University lists the hometown for Michels’ youngest son, who graduated from high school in 2021, as Riverside, Connecticut, the location of the $17 million home. The Dartmouth bio says he graduated from Brunswick High in Greenwich. He was in many sailing competitions as a student there. His yacht’s home port is New York. That’s just for starters.
The campaign has painted Michels as a blue-collar figure rooted in Wisconsin who baled hay as a kid, graduated from small-town Lomira High School, joined the Army, and then worked for the family company headquartered in Brownsville, Wisconsin. In his announcement speech, Michels stood before red utility vehicles and posed with construction workers. An east coast lifestyle full of yachting and polo clubs is clearly not the image the campaign is after.
Tim and Barbara Michels still own a New York penthouse along E. 68th St that they purchased in 2015 for $8.7 million. Built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1931, it’s just steps away from Park Avenue.
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The same LLC that we’ve tied to the couple first purchased a home in exclusive Greenwich, a bedroom community for celebrities and millionaires who commute to Manhattan. The LLC purchased that four-bedroom, five-bath home in December 2017 for $4.6 million.
The LLC then traded up, purchasing the $17 million house in Riverside, Connecticut, a neighborhood of Greenwich, in 2020. They sold the first Greenwich home in April 2021 for $6.5 million.
We are not naming the LLC for their privacy. We are also not revealing the address of their current Connecticut home.
The building permit below reveals that Tim and Barbara Michels own the $17 million Riverside home. We obtained the document from the town of Greenwich, which included it in a trove of public records when the owners sought to build a tennis court last August.
Barbara Michels listed the $17 million home as her “residential street address” when she made a campaign donation in December 2021, and she listed the couple’s Manhattan penthouse as her address when she made a campaign donation in 2020. However, Tim Michels has used the couple’s Hartland, Wisconsin, address on his campaign donations.
The couple still owns a Hartland, Wisconsin home and lot worth over $5 million. They moved the Wisconsin home under a similarly named LLC in 2017, county records show, although it’s not clear why.
It’s not easy to find details on the Connecticut home. We’ve found that 31 of 32 photos of the $17 million home were deleted from MLS, although it’s not clear when. They’re still present on Realtor.com. A call to the property tax authority confirmed the LLC still owns it.
The LLC used to purchase the Connecticut homes lists a Milwaukee lawyer as its registered agent. Documents show that it’s managed under another LLC by a woman named “S. Philomena Winter.” These actions made it extremely difficult to trace ownership. For example, if you look up property records, you get the name of the LLC only. In short, its ownership is hidden through two layers of LLCs.
The initial made Winter hard to trace. However, we’ve discovered a Susan Philomena Winter is an accounting manager at Michels Corp.
However, architectural documents in the Town of Greenwich packet describe it as the “Michels Residence.”
According to the latest available Connecticut tax records, multiple vehicles and trailers are registered to Barbara in Connecticut, and, in one case, a vehicle is registered to Timothy and Barbara Michels. One, an Aston DBX, goes for $200,000.
There are many ways to document that the children, while juveniles, lived in Connecticut and New York during their high school years. We won’t present all of that documentation in the interest of their privacy. For the same reason, we have blurred their faces and aren’t naming them, even though some of them have appeared in the media before.
The two youngest children, now in college, attended Connecticut and New York City high schools for their entire high school years. The oldest child graduated from Xavier High School in New York City in 2016 (he started attending that school in 2013); the daughter graduated from Marymount School of New York in 2019; and the youngest son graduated from Brunswick High School in Greenwich in 2021. A call to each school confirmed none of them are boarding schools.
By way of example, the eldest son played on the tennis team for Xavier High School in New York in 2014, was quoted in a New York television story as a student there in 2015, and posted photos and a video showing he graduated from Xavier in 2016. The daughter’s Marymount swimming team listed her hometown as New York as far back as 2015. All three kids then attended colleges out east.
It’s confusing why Michels would have lived in Wisconsin the past nine years if his family was living in Connecticut and New York during the kids’ formative high school years. The family members appear close, and his daughter suffered from brain cancer during that time.
Barbara spoke at his announcement press conference, and Tim Michels told WISN-1130 host Mark Belling that she is the only person who influences him. The family members were photographed together standing on a New York City street in 2016.
Barbara’s Facebook page shows that her likes focus almost entirely on east coast interests, including Hillsong Church Connecticut, Brant Beach Yacht Club in New Jersey, NYC Polo Club, and Marymount School of New York. However, her page claims she lives in Chenequa, and one of her “likes” is an inland yachting group in Wisconsin.
We attended Michels’ announcement in Brownsville, Wisconsin, but his campaign’s spokesperson, Brian Fraley, ordered us to go behind a cordon in the back of the room before Michels arrived, where the media were kept in abeyance and prevented from asking any questions. After his speech, Michels signed autographs at a rope line in a large garage at Michels Corp.
We were promised we would get answers to all of our questions several times, including by Fraley at that event. We also asked Michels, through Fraley, for his position on issues conservatives care about, like right to work, unions, and prevailing wage.
Frankly, we were not sure we would write this story at first. We were hoping there was a simple explanation and that the campaign would provide it forthrightly. The opposite happened.
We have received no response.
‘Proud to Live in Wisconsin’
Despite the east coast homes and high schools, Michels has stated that the family lives in Wisconsin. In a press conference in March 2022, just weeks before he announced a run for governor, Michels and his family members stressed their Wisconsin ties to the news media.
“We’re proud to live in Wisconsin,” Tim Michels said, announcing a major family donation, this time to the Medical College of Wisconsin honoring his daughter’s brain tumor recovery. A CBS-58 story referred to them as a “Dodge County family.”
“You don’t have to go to New York or Europe or anywhere to get the first-rate treatment that there is right here in Milwaukee, right here on this campus with Froedtert and Children’s and MCW,” Michels said. “This is as good as oncology and cancer research anywhere in the world.”
The daughter’s story is a moving one. She was a student in Wisconsin when she collapsed at age 11, in 2012, at a parent-teacher conference. “Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, diagnosed choroid plexus carcinoma (CPC), a rare, slow-growing cancer that starts deep in the brain,” the Weill Cornell story says. The first Michels’ child started attending a New York high school the following year.
Despite the fact that she attended high school in New York and college in Massachusetts, the couple’s daughter told the Milwaukee press in March, “This is home so being able to get treated for my cancer right here in Milwaukee was amazing.”
The tumor returned in 2017, while the family “was living in the New York area,” and a New York doctor treated her with a “groundbreaking” technique, the Cornell article says.
We asked the campaign whether the daughter’s health factored into any decision to live in New York, but they wouldn’t answer that question, either. If Michels claimed Wisconsin residency on his taxes and to vote, saying he moved to New York for his daughter’s treatment could pose a problem.
Residency can be a complicated matter.
Although a person does not have to be physically present in one state or always live there to establish Wisconsin residency for tax purposes, they must show they have not abandoned their old domicile or taken actions “consistent with such intent,” that they have not intended to acquire a new domicile, and that they are not physically present in the new domicile. [2019-Form1NPR-inst]
See the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s rules for legal residency.
People’s domiciles don’t change if they leave Wisconsin “for a brief rest or vacation” or to complete a transaction or contract. Michels Corp. received a $201 million contract to work on a massive tunneling project involving the New York subway system, we’ve learned, around the time the first Michels’ child started attending high school there, but that contract ran only from 2013-2016.
Proof of residency is required to vote. However, intent to return can complicate matters; it’s often meant for college students.
“Under Wisconsin Statutes, an individual must reside in an election ward for at least 28 consecutive days before the election and have no present intent to move. A person does not lose residency for voting purposes by leaving an established residence for temporary purposes with the intent to return to the residence,” says a Wisconsin election guidance document student_residency_guide_pdf_17201, noting, “It is not necessary that there be an intention to remain permanently at the voting residence. It is sufficient that the place is for the time being the home of the voter to the exclusion of other places. Once established, a person’s residency is presumed to continue until a new one is established. A voter’s statements and actions alone can establish intent.”
Our Unanswered Questions Sent to Michels’ Campaign
These are the questions we sent Michels’ campaign on April 24, 2022.
Mr. Michels’ 3 kids were in New York area schools from at least 2015-2021 as far as we can tell. Xavier, Brunswick I think. Is that accurate? Which schools and years?
Does his family still live in New York area?
Did he live in New York area (New York City? Riverside/Greenwich CT?) or did he live in Wisconsin? Or both?
Did he buy a house/condo/property in New York City? when? How about CT? When and where?
What year did the family move to New York area. Did the whole family move?
Which state did he claim residency for voting purposes from 2012-present and which state for tax purposes?
We heard the company kept meticulous logs to show how much time he spent in Wisconsin, to show he lived in Wisconsin the required amount of time, is this true and could we see copies of those? Could we see the tax records too?
Why did they move to New York? Was it due to the New York subway project? What was his role in that?
Where did Michels live primarily, and how much of the year? Why did he not live full time with his family if he did not.
What role did his daughter’s health treatments play in this. We find her story inspiring.
Is there anything you think voters should know about this?
“We would like to get Mr. Michels’ contextual answers on this to present it fairly,” we wrote. But we received no response.
We wrote Fraley again and asked when we would be getting a response, but he did not respond.