"When you hide behind a veil of your financial business, you never know who you're influencing, where your priorities lie," Messam said. "But I think it's important that the American people have some glimpse or some understanding of the financial standing of their commander in chief."
As it turns out, though, Messam has had his own financial troubles. Last month, New Times reported on accusations that several staffers hadn’t been paid for work on his presidential campaign. But his financial woes go back further: Public records show Messam and his wife, Angela, have a lengthy history of money-related problems, from tax liens, to a home foreclosure filing, to a lawsuit from a former employee at Messam’s construction business who says he wasn’t paid for overtime work. Together, the documents paint the clearest picture yet of the candidate's money issues.
In a statement to New Times, Messam acknowledged having "personal and professional challenges between 2008-2011" due to the recession. But he rejected the characterization of his financial history as troubled. "Wayne Messam does not have any financial problems and is a classic American Success Story," Messam wrote in an email.
The candidate's financial struggles appear to trace to around 2005, when FedEx sued one of his businesses, Messam Consulting Services, in small claims court in Broward County, where a judge ultimately ordered him to pay the shipping firm $3,691. (The candidate says his company struggled after being disrupted by UPS stores and Amazon.) Then, in 2008, Messam and his wife were hit with a foreclosure filing on their home in Miramar. A lien for $4,710 from their neighborhood's homeowners association followed.
After being elected to the Miramar City Commission in 2011, Messam told the Sun-Sentinel his family's troubles started when he left a high-paying job in the pharmaceutical industry to form his own construction company in 2007.
In a YouTube video that appears to have been shot inside a Panera Bread restaurant, Messam said his story could inspire others. "I just want to share with everyone that no matter what challenges, adversities you face in life, that you can overcome them… and once you overcome those adversities, use your story, your testimony to others, to help others get through their storm," he said.
The foreclosure case was dismissed in October 2011, and court records show the Messams paid off their mortgage by November 2012. The couple satisfied the lien by the Sunset Lakes Master Association in February 2012.
But the Messams' financial troubles were far from over. In May 2013, the Internal Revenue Service filed a lien against the couple for $32,652 in unpaid 2007, 2008, and 2010 taxes. Records show the lien was withdrawn in October 2013. But three years later, the IRS filed yet another lien. In December 2016, the Messams received notice that they owed $69,795 from 2014. The couple paid the government in August 2017, according to court documents.
Messam says the IRS tax liens "were placed in error."
"After appeal, they were all released or withdrawn after our successful dispute," he told New Times.
As Messam worked to develop his construction business, his company, Asset Builders, faced complaints of unpaid debts. In 2009, the Florida Department of Revenue filed a lien against the construction firm for $515.50 for unemployment tax owed. Asset Builders quickly paid off the debt, but acquired another state lien in 2010 of $375.62. That, too, was paid off, in 2011.
Building the construction business from scratch nevertheless remains one of Messam's proudest accomplishments. In his email to New Times, he contrasted his company's tough beginnings with Trump's inherited wealth. "Unlike our current President who started his business life with $1 million, I built my business success from the ground up with no help," Messam wrote. "Once our construction business began to win more contracts, our business success allowed us to reap the benefits of all the risks we took to start our company and we were able to resolve and settle outstanding fees."
Then there are the accusations of campaign staff not being paid. Most relevant is a 2018 lawsuit from a former Asset Builders employee, Eugene Phillips. Phillips, who was hired in March 2018 as a construction superintendent, says he routinely worked 50-hour weeks until he was unfairly terminated in July 2018 "for his refusal to participate in conduct at work that [Phillips] deemed to be unsafe." Phillips is now suing Asset Builders and Angela Messam, who manages the company's day-to-day operations, for refusing to pay him overtime wages.
On behalf of Asset Builders, Angela Messam filed a motion to dismiss the case, saying Phillips was a salaried worker paid $60,000 per year. A later court filing from Messam's attorney, Wendell Locke, further denied Phillips' allegations.
Messam says his company is "vigorously fighting this false claim." Multiple calls to Phillips' attorney, Freddy Perera, went unreturned. The case is pending in Broward Circuit Court.
After New Times contacted Messam last month about allegations he hadn't paid his campaign staff, Locke said there had been "miscommunication" about whom had been hired. In a follow-up email April 30, Messam told New Times some of his employees — who included political all-stars who'd worked for Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Andrew Gillum — were unauthorized to work for him.
"Based on the campaign’s investigation, offers not authorized by the campaign were extended to persons who are believed to have performed some level of work for the campaign," Messam explained. "The unauthorized offers included compensation that had not been approved by the campaign."
Messam did not respond to questions about whether or when he will release his own tax returns, as he promised.
As of now, Messam still hasn't qualified for a spot on the Democratic debate stage in late June, which he's previously said is his short-term goal. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week found 88 percent of voters haven't heard enough about Messam to form an opinion.