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Willard & Kelsey sends state its progress report late

Solar group faces fines, hike in loan payments

The Ohio Department of Development has received a report it will use to assess whether Willard & Kelsey Solar Group created the 400 jobs it promised in its state loan agreement.

The three-year progress report arrived Wednesday -- two days after the April 30 postmark deadline -- and initially was incomplete.

Willard & Kelsey, a struggling solar-panel manufacturer in Perrysburg, laid off most of its 80-person work force in January. The layoffs were the latest development in a series of delays and issues facing the company.

The firm has received a $5 million loan, a $500,000 grant, and a tax credit from the state Department of Development. The department initially only received a report pertaining to the tax credit, for which Willard & Kelsey never has been eligible because it hasn't created the hundreds of jobs it promised. The department obtained documents about the loan and grant later Wednesday after contacting Willard & Kelsey, department spokesman Katie Sabatino said.

The company could face a fine because it was tardy with its report. It also faces a possible increase on the interest of the $5 million loan if it hasn't created the 400 jobs. The state is reviewing whether it could declare the $5 million loan due and seize collateral at Willard & Kelsey's Perrysburg headquarters per the loan agreement.

The Department of Development previously based its assessments on one company report but now requires reports for each piece of funding awarded from the state, said Daryl Hennessy, assistant chief of the business services division at the department. Willard & Kelsey was informed before the April 30 deadline via email that it was required to submit paperwork for all three items, he said.

"We expect the numbers would be the same [for all reports], but the company needs to tell us that," Mr. Hennessy said.

In an email to The Blade on Wednesday, Mossie Murphy, vice president of development at Willard & Kelsey, wrote, "As of today, to the best of our knowledge, all required documents have been filed with the ODOD. Beyond that the company has no further comment."

Willard & Kelsey has been making interest-only payments on the Department of Development loan, but will have its payments revert to the full amount in June, Ms. Sabatino said.

Willard & Kelsey's former chief executive officer, William Mitchell, alleged in emails to his attorney that Willard & Kelsey executives were paid with state Department of Development loan funds. If true, those payments would be in direct violation of the company's loan agreement with the state. The emails were part of records maintained by Mr. Mitchell, which included Willard & Kelsey's financial and banking information, that recently were obtained by The Blade. Mr. Mitchell was fired from Willard & Kelsey in 2009 and died in 2011.

Willard & Kelsey executives and their attorney vehemently have denied a misuse of state funds in prior interviews with The Blade.

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

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