- The Washington Times
Thursday, April 26, 2012

One month after the chief restructuring officer for failed solar panel maker Solyndra reported no wrongdoing by the company, documents show federal investigators have remained busy in recent months scouring the company’s financial documents, internal emails and computers.

The activity surrounding the criminal probe into Solyndra was revealed in bankruptcy court records submitted this week by a law firm hired to represent the company in connection with an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco.

The firm, K&L Gates, filed papers seeking to be paid more than $130,000 in fees for the work of their white-collar criminal defense lawyers representing Solyndra from December through February. The documents also include a detailed billing statement that shows numerous interactions with federal authorities.

The billing records mostly discuss document production issues and note several conversations between K&L Gates attorneys and the U.S. attorney’s office.

On Jan. 12, for instance, attorneys billed Solyndra for a meeting with a vendor about “copying computer image for production to DOJ,” which refers to the Department of Justice.

On Jan. 4, the law firm billed for 2 1/2 hours of work by one lawyer to “prepare response to subpoena,” records show.

Weeks earlier, the firm met with government attorneys “regarding case status and steps going forward,” according to records.

A Feb. 17 reference to the investigation in the records lists one K&L Gates attorney billing $132 to “confer with government counsel regarding documents and next steps.”

The firm billed $133,821 in fees overall, with more than $20,000 alone spent on document production.

Taken together, the billing records suggest that the federal investigation into the failed solar company, which went bankrupt two years after winning more than a half-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, remained active at least through the most recent billing statements.

One of the items on the earlier bill refers to a meeting between K&L Gates attorney Jeffrey L. Bornstein, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco, and an assistant U.S. attorney identified as “J. Nedrow.”

Jeffrey Nedrow is a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, and he was a prosecutor in the criminal trial against former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

In a previous billing statement submitted to the court in December, K&L Gates also referred for the first time to the existence of a federal grand jury looking into the company’s demise.

Solyndra also remains the focus of probes by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Energy, which awarded the company its loans, and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Jack Gillund, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of California, declined to comment.

While the outcome of the investigation remains unclear, Solyndra’s independent chief restructuring officer issued a lengthy report late last month that found no wrongdoing by the company.

In addition, the restructuring officer, R. Todd Neilson, said the company’s bonus payouts, which received criticism after the bankruptcy, were “within materially acceptable limits.” He blamed the company’s demise not on mismanagement, but rather on falling solar prices and a global recession, among other factors.

Mr. Neilson also said the Energy Department and Solyndra’s investors knew what they were getting into when they poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the company.

“Solyndra’s investors and lenders were well advised of these risks facing the company,” he wrote in a report filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

Mr. Neilson said the company’s construction costs were correctly recorded and “no material funds were diverted from their original use.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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