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Published: Thursday, 9/13/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

WILLARD & KELSEY

Solar firm misses its payment to state agency

Air authority sought rest of $5M balance

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Willard & Kelsey Solar Group failed to repay the more than $5 million balance of a loan it defaulted on to the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority by a Wednesday deadline.

The Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer has not made consistent loan payments to the air authority since December, 2011, which violates the terms of its contract with the state. The air authority’s board demanded full repayment of the loan in an Aug. 24 letter to the company because of those infractions.

“I do think we’re going to have to assert our rights and seek the money in whatever way we can,” said Jeff Jacobson, an air authority board member.

The state approved Willard & Kelsey for a $10 million loan in July, 2010, but the company only received $5 million from the air authority because it failed to meet the production requirements of its loan contract. That $5 million was meant to cover the cost of solar-panel machinery.

The Ohio Department of Development, which loaned the company $5 million and awarded it a $500,000 grant, also demanded repayment of its loan last month. That payment -- more than $4 million -- is due to the state by Oct. 26.

A Blade investigation found that Willard & Kelsey’s executives were compensated with more than $1.4 million in company funds from the end of 2008 through the spring of 2009. Company credit cards were used to buy airline tickets for an executive’s family members, luxury furniture, and trips to Detroit Tigers and Pittsburgh Steelers sporting events.

That information was discovered after The Blade reviewed financial statements and records maintained by former Willard & Kelsey Chief Executive Officer William Mitchell, who also claimed executives were compensated with money from the Ohio Department of Development loan.

If true, those allegations would violate the terms of the company’s contract with the department of development. Mr. Mitchell was fired from the company in 2009 and died in 2011.

Mossie Murphy, vice president of development for Willard & Kelsey, declined to comment for this article. Michael Cicak, the company’s current CEO, did not respond to an email sent by The Blade Wednesday.

Mr. Jacobson said Willard & Kelsey’s failure to repay the air authority will trigger a collection process that most likely would be authorized by the board at is October meeting.

That process still is being hashed out. Todd Nein, interim executive director of the air authority, said he’s working with the air authority’s staff and the Ohio Department of Development to ensure the loan funds are returned through the proper channels.

The air authority’s loan to Willard & Kelsey was part of the Advanced Energy Job Stimulus Program, which allocated $84 million for non-coal-related projects. That money was mainly awarded to companies with an emphasis on green energy.

Those funds initially were funneled through the Ohio Department of Development but are administered by the air authority. This air authority is working to establish a process for the reallocation of those funds as loans are paid or collected.

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



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