Many Americans were upset when solar-panel maker Solyndra filed for bankruptcy last September owing taxpayers more than $500 million, but retiree Robert Grady Jr. was different. The more he read about the failed company, the more irritated he became.
Finally, weeks after the bankruptcy case began, Mr. Grady did something he’d never done before. He filed a claim in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. It turned out to be the biggest single claim in the case — $535 million — but it wasn’t on behalf of himself. Rather, Mr. Grady, 57, made the claim on behalf of U.S. taxpayers because he said he didn’t trust Department of Energy lawyers to look out for taxpayers’ interests.
The retiree said he wasn’t looking for any money. He just wanted the loan money returned to the U.S. Treasury. Now, after more than a year, the bankruptcy case finally is grinding to a halt. Among the thousands of claims filed in the case, Mr. Grady’s is perhaps the most unusual.
“I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve never consulted a lawyer,” Mr. Grady said in a recent phone interview. “I just think the taxpayers are getting shafted.”
Mr. Grady filed his $535 million claim on a one-page handwritten form submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on Nov. 11, 2011. In response to a question with regard to the basis for his claim, he wrote, “Money Loaned by DOE, representing U.S. taxpaying citizen.”
Solyndra received $535 million in federal loan guarantees in 2009 and was championed by, among others, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, but its bankruptcy last year fueled an ongoing congressional probe and turned into a big political headache for the Obama administration.
In the 10 months since Mr. Grady filed his claim, he has followed the case closely from his computer at home in Redmond, Wash., and he has read just about all of the more than 1,000 docket entries filed so far during the proceedings. Yet he has never had any contact with anybody from the bankruptcy court or with any of the many lawyers in the case.
Still, a few weeks ago, Mr. Grady noticed finally that somebody in the case was paying attention.
In the 19th and final paragraph of a recent court motion seeking approval of their reorganization plan, attorneys for Solyndra, who earn up to $975 per hour for their work in the case, told the judge in the case not to pay attention to Mr. Grady.
“Finally,” the attorneys wrote, “the objection to the plan submitted by Robert E. Grady Jr. in his purported capacity as a taxpaying citizen of the United States should be ignored. Mr. Grady is not a creditor of these estates and has no standing to assert a claim on behalf of the United States.”
When Mr. Grady saw that paragraph, he quickly got to work drafting a reply, which he filed this past week.
In his one-page reply, Mr. Grady called the notion that his claim ought to be ignored an “affront and insult to the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, associated documents and statements made throughout the history of this country by our Founding Fathers.”
He also wrote that the idea that he and other taxpayers are not creditors is “untrue, arrogant, irresponsible, unethical and potentially fraudulent.”
Just weeks earlier, Mr. Grady had filed his own motion objecting to the company’s reorganization plan. He wasn’t alone, either.
Government attorneys representing both the Department of Energy and the U.S. Office of the Trustee, which monitors bankruptcy cases, had raised concerns that the company’s plan wasn’t transparent enough about hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax benefits for company investors.
“The taxpaying citizens of this country, including myself, should not be obligated to, in effect, provide compensation to these parties for their financially irresponsible and potentially improper, unethical and possibly illegal decisions and actions,” Mr. Grady wrote in a filing.
Speaking by phone, Mr. Grady described himself as a retired lower- to middle-level oil executive trying to “eke out a living.” He said he realized he wasn’t likely to win on any of his court motions.
“What I think ought to happen is that $535 million should go back to the Treasury to be distributed to all of the taxpayers,” he said. “I know it would only be a dollar or so apiece, but it would make a point.”
• Jim McElhatton can be reached at email@example.com.
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