News last week that Raymond Belcher was planning to start a new RV manufacturing company in the Elkhart area would normally have been met with applause and praise for boldly entering the RV industry during times of economic uncertainty. That’s especially true of his plan to hire more than 50 skilled workers.
But the new owner of Creative RV Manufacturing has a shaky past that has burned many people the in the closely-knit RV industry. As a result, his announcement was met with disdain and skepticism that may work to prevent the start-up company from even opening its doors.
A few years ago, Belcher was convicted of embezzling more than $650,000 from Cikira RV. Others also emerged to suggest he applied the same tactics at Cruiser RV, but was not charged. Belcher served time for the crime, and was recently released on probation. There is no question he needed to relaunch his life, and the RV industry was likely the one field that he knew best.
Perhaps I am too trusting, but I am a very firm believer in giving people a second chance. The reason we often have career criminals is because they are unable to get work once released from jail. Yet, they need to eat, pay for a place to live, support their families and restore their self-worth. The inability to launch a career post-prison keeps them paying for the same crime over and over, and virtually ensures they will remain wards of the state for longer periods of time.
Belcher has a right to restore his life and he deserves an opportunity to do so.
However, the path he chose allowed others to question his motives. Despite the fact he was recently released from prison for stealing from his business partners, he attempted to hide that fact from others, including the Goshen City Council which had approved a tax break to help him save on rent to get his company started.
I believe he would have garnered far more sympathy and a genuine desire among others to help him restore his life and reputation if he had admitted his past mistake upfront, repented of the behavior, asked for forgiveness and outlined a plan to move forward. After all, Belcher does have a $650,000 restitution bill hanging over his head. It’s unlikely he’d be able to pay much of that back working a minimum wage job.
Belcher also appears to have violated the terms of his parole. According to the Elkhart Truth, conditions of his parole prevented him from owning a checking account or controlling other people’s money. In fact, he couldn’t even own a credit card or obtain other credit.
It’s hard to imagine that he was unaware of those provisions. It’s even harder to imagine that the CEO of a company could do the job without directing the money of others, and launching a new business without some type of credit.
I consider those conditions of parole to be ridiculous. How can someone not have a checking account? How do parole agents think people are paid in 2010 — in shekels and chickens? Most banks won’t cash checks unless the bearer has an account with that bank. Wal-mart will cash checks, but only up to a certain amount. Also, most employers today won’t issue checks, opting instead to deposit funds directly into what? A checking account.
Conditions of parole could have been modified to prohibit bouncing a check, not a blanket prohibition against even having an account. Parole could have been conditioned against controlling the money of others without permission. That would allow a parole agent to communicate his concerns with someone else who, aware of the circumstances, would exercise more oversight to ensure Belcher walks the line.
Belcher’s past does prove that he knows how to manage a company — and I am sure he could do it the right way if given another chance with more accountability in place. But, he may be better suited to find another industry in which to relaunch his life and career. I fear he has made too many enemies in the RV industry to be an effective manager or business leader.