2nd state office sanctions firm

Perrysburg solar company given deadline to pay $1M


A second state agency is levying financial sanctions against Willard & Kelsey Solar Group because of the firm's delinquent loan payments, which exceed $1.1 million.

In an Aug. 14 meeting, the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority gave the Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer until Wednesday to agree to pay $1 million and make a personal or corporate commitment for the remainder of its loan balance. The company also can come up with an alternative proposal, per the authority's resolution.

If the company does not agree to the terms of the authority's proposal or present an alternative plan, the authority can call the more than $5 million balance of its loan due.

The authority is meeting Thursday to continue discussions about the firm's fate.

"We have a Sept. 1 deadline if we're going to call their loan due or not," said Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, chairman of the authority's board. "We are trying to assess the information we have and the best information we can gather."

The authority's request comes on the heels of a decision by the Ohio Department of Development two weeks ago to call its $5 million loan to Willard & Kelsey due.

A representative of Willard & Kelsey is scheduled to meet with the authority and state Department of Development today, state officials said.

Mossie Murphy, Willard & Kelsey's vice president of development, declined to comment for this article. Michael Cicak, the company's founder and chief executive officer, did not return a call seeking comment.

A Blade investigation revealed Willard & Kelsey executives paid or lent themselves at least $1.4 million in company funds from 2008 to 2009 and used company credit cards to purchase airline tickets for family members and to attend Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Steelers games.

The company's former chief executive officer claimed company executives were compensated with funds from the state Department of Development loan. If true, those payments would violate the company's state loan agreement. William Mitchell, the firm's former CEO, was fired in 2009 and died in 2011.

To date, Willard & Kelsey has received $10 million in state loan payments -- $5 million from the department of development and $5 million from the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. The company was approved for another $5 million loan from the authority, but it did not get it because it did not meet the terms of its loan agreement.

In January, Willard & Kelsey laid off about half its more than 80-person work force. That move added to a long list of financial, production, and staffing issues faced by the firm.

Both the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority and state department of development are probing the firm's finances, but in different ways. The department of development is conducting an audit of the firm and its use of state funding; the authority has hired GBQ Partners LLC, a Columbus accounting firm, to evaluate the financial viability of Willard & Kelsey.

Darrell Fields, chief legal counsel for the authority, said GBQ believes Willard & Kelsey can turn the tide and overcome its issues. That's why the authority gave the company the option to pay $1 million and make a commitment for the remaining loan funds, he said.

The commitment, however, would make either the company's executives or their creditors responsible for the loan, rather than just Willard & Kelsey. It would directly tie the loan to an individual, group of individuals, or an entity such as a bank.

"It is money saying we are going to guarantee that this debt is going to be paid," Mr. Fields said. "The state is now in a solid position."

Contact Kris Turner at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.