Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017
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Connection or coincidence?

Political cash and development dollars in Ohio

 

Willard & Kelsey, a company that owes the state Willard & Kelsey, a company that owes the state $10.3 million and has failed to pay its vendors thousands of dollars.
Willard & Kelsey, a company that owes the state $10.3 million and has failed to pay its vendors thousands of dollars.
THE BLADE/ZACK CONKLE
The Blade began investigating Perrysburg's Willard & Kelsey Solar Group after the company laid off more than half of its 80-person workforce in January 2012. That investigation, which turned up allegations that executives misused millions in state funding, grew from a story about one company to a review of several others, as well as a check of operations at the former Ohio Department of Development and Ohio Air Quality Development authority.

These stories highlight the ongoing issues with companies across the state, as well as problems with state oversight. The Blade will continue its investigations throughout 2013.

 

Day 1:

Ohio smiles on workers' political gifts: (12/30/12) Companies whose employees made sizable contributions to campaigns and political groups in Ohio received larger incentives to create jobs and aid industry from the state than did those that donated less or not at all, a seven-month Blade investigation found. Employees of businesses that received more than one loan or grant from the state contributed $39,244 on average to candidates, political action committees, or political parties. Their companies were awarded an average of $1.06 million. The average contribution when there was only one grant or loan was $10,492. Those businesses received $358,224 on average.

Day 2:

$327M for firms follows workers’ gifts of $11.3M; Ex-Gov. Strickland topped recipients in last decade: (12/31/12) People employed at businesses that received more than $327 million in loans and grants from the former Ohio Department of Development contributed more than $11.3 million to state politicians, their campaigns, and political groups during the last decade. A Blade investigation that began in June found employees at 495 companies that received state funding since July, 2007, contributed an average of $22,864 per firm. Those companies received incentives valued at $512,627 on average. Political giving to Republican candidates outnumbers Democratic donations by about 80 percent. Since 2002, Republicans running for office in Ohio received $5,698,327 and Democrats received $1,339,889. The Blade tracked the political affiliations of campaigns that received donations from the state-funded companies to determine the results


 

Read more from the investigation that prompted the series: 

Local solar company got loans despite money woes: (3/18/12) The state of Ohio lent millions of dollars to a Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer despite knowing about budding financial problems at the company. And even when it had a better account of Willard & Kelsey Solar Group's money troubles, the state approved requests to defer loan payments, extend financial report deadlines, enter into a new state loan agreement, and modify the terms of a private loan. The company received $10 million in state loans and could receive $5 million more if it meets certain conditions. Documents obtained by The Blade through a public records request show that the company's monetary woes began almost two years before it laid off much of its work force in January.  

 

Execs lent to selves at solar firm; money flow began on day local company got $5M: (4/1512) The executives of Willard & Kelsey Solar Group, a struggling solar-panel manufacturer, began lending themselves company funds the same day the firm received $5 million from a group of Italian investors, internal financial records show. The loans to five company executives totaled more than $500,000 from August to October, 2008, records show. In addition, the top five executives also received payments of almost $1 million from November, 2008, through March, 2009. The financial records obtained by The Blade detailing Willard & Kelsey's spending in its early days were maintained by William Mitchell, former Willard & Kelsey CEO.

 

Solar firm's use of state aid questioned; former Willard & Kelsey CEO alleged fund misuse: (4/29/12) After being fired in 2009 as the top executive of Willard & Kelsey Solar Group, a Perrysburg start-up that has received millions in state loans, William Mitchell made a decision that he wasn't going to go away quietly. Before the company's chief executive officer left his job, he copied company records onto his computer's external hard drive -- months of financial transactions, banking records, and detailed expense reports showing the firm spent thousands on travel and entertainment, including trips to Detroit Tigers games and Pittsburgh Steelers events. Emails from Mr. Mitchell also show that he took a keen interest in another company expense -- the monthly payments, some as high as $40,000, that went to several top executives. Mr. Mitchell made a key decision to use this information in the months after he was fired.

 

State auditors to probe Willard & Kelsey's use of funding; Perrysburg company missed loan payment: (5/22/12) The Ohio Department of Development is sending auditors to Willard & Kelsey Solar Group this week to examine the company's finances and use of state funding. The Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer failed to make a $109,328 payment this month on a $5 million loan from the department, which prompted state officials to probe Willard & Kelsey's financial practices. An ongoing investigation by The Blade into Willard & Kelsey's operations revealed last month that top executives paid or lent themselves about $1.4 million in company funds, and the firm's former chief executive officer, William Mitchell, claimed company officials were paid with the state loan funds. If true, the practice would violate the firm's loan agreement with the state. No timetable has been set for the audit. 

 

Solar group owes Ohio almost $1.5M; state loan payments overdue: (7/22/12) Willard & Kelsey Solar Group -- a firm whose executives lent or paid themselves about $1.4 million in company funds -- owes almost $1.5 million in back loan payments to the state of Ohio. The Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer began missing loan payments in December of last year. Since then, Willard & Kelsey consistently has missed or failed to make full payments to the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. Those actions violate the terms of the company's loan agreements with both state agencies and add to a laundry list of problems faced by the firm, which has received $10.5 million in state funding.

 

State seeks solar firm's $5M loan money; Willard & Kelsey has until Sept. 5: (8/10/12) After Willard & Kelsey Solar Group failed to make good on loan payments to the Ohio Department of Development for about a year, the state has come to collect. In a letter dated Monday, the department called its $5 million loan due. Willard & Kelsey's inconsistent payments, which began in September, 2011, violated its May, 2009, loan contract with the state and constitutes an "event of default," according to the letter. The company has until Sept. 5 to pay the $4,135,855.12 it owes the department.

  

2nd state office sanctions firm; Perrysburg solar company given deadline to pay $1M:(8/21/12) 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.

  

Solar-panel maker Willard & Kelsey told to pay $5M loan; Perrysburg firm again in arrears: (8/24/12) The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority on Thursday recalled a $5 million loan from Willard & Kelsey Solar Group, marking the second time this month a state agency has demanded the Perrysburg company return taxpayer funds. Willard & Kelsey has until Sept. 3 to repay the more than $5 million balance of a July, 2009, loan from the authority. The loan was called due because the solar-panel manufacturer regularly missed or made partial payments to the state. It owes the authority more than $1.1 million in back payments. This is the first time in the authority's history it has called a loan due.


Toledo solar firm probed over terms of loan: (8/30/12) The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority is determining whether a Toledo solar firm that was five months delinquent with its state loan payments has defaulted on its contract. Disputes over the language of Buckeye Silicon's $1.4 million loan agreement prompted the air authority's board to seek a second legal opinion on the contract. The air authority wants to clarify when the company was supposed to start repaying the state and whether it should be making principal payments on the loan. The five months of missed loan payments also could be a part of that discussion.


Firm gets more time to repay $4M; Perrysburg solar panel maker in default on state loans: (9/5/12) The Ohio Department of Development has given Willard & Kelsey Solar Group until Oct. 26 to repay more than $4 million it owes from a $5 million loan. The decision was revealed Wednesday, the same day on which the department previously demanded full repayment be made. The Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer has missed or made partial loan payments since September, 2011, and is in default on its loan. In an Aug. 6 letter, department officials demanded repayment of the loan by Wednesday. The balance of the March, 2009, loan is $4,135,855, and the decision to extend the payoff date was made by the top department officials.

 

2nd area solar firm defaults on state loan; Buckeye Silicon was lent $1.4M: (9/12/12) The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority has ruled that a second solar firm in the Toledo area defaulted on a state loan. The air authority's board found that Buckeye Silicon violated several terms of its $1.4 million loan. The company missed loan payments or made partial payments and was not compliant in six areas highlighted in a report reviewed by the air authority's board at its meeting Tuesday. This marks the second time in less than a month that the air authority has demanded repayment of a loan from a Toledo-area solar company. It ruled during an Aug. 23 meeting that Perrysburg's Willard & Kelsey Solar Group was in default of a $5 million loan.

 

Solar firm misses its payment to state agency: (9/13/12) 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.

 

Solar firm gets delay to repay state loan; Willard & Kelsey has until Oct. 26: (9/14/12) The Ohio Department of Development’s decision to delay Willard & Kelsey Solar Group’s loan repayment date from Sept. 5 to Oct. 26 was based on a plan the troubled Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer shared with the department that’s aimed at raising additional funding. Daryl Hennessy, assistant chief of the business services division at the department, said Willard & Kelsey improved its balance sheet and is attempting to acquire financing to cover the more than $4 million balance of its loan from the department. That information, along with financial documents given to the department, prompted the state to delay the loan's due date. The financial documents submitted to the department are not a public record, Mr. Hennessy said.

  

Energy program faces loan defaults, scrutiny 4 years after it was introduced: (10/14/12) In 2008, former Gov. Ted Strickland’s plans for Ohio were green. The Democrat, who serves as a national co-chairman of President Obama’s re-election campaign, pushed sources of clean energy as a way to revolutionize the state’s economy and generate jobs. From 2007 to 2008, Mr. Strickland’s administration helped usher in a $1.57 billion bipartisan state stimulus package that included a $150 million Advanced Energy Job Stimulus Program. That program included $84 million for solar, wind, nuclear, and other noncoal initiatives. The entities that received support under it were supposed to use taxpayer-funded loans to become industry leaders, job creators, and technological innovators. Four years later, it turns out that it isn’t so easy being green.

 

Perrysburg solar firm misses payment on $5M loan: (10/27/12) Willard & Kelsey Solar Group did not pay the Ohio Development Services Agency (formerly the Department of Development) the balance of a $5 million loan by Friday’s due date. As of the close of business, the agency had not received a payment from the troubled Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer. Agency spokesman Katie Sabatino released this statement: “If payment is not received by the deadline, no further extensions will be given and the matter will be referred to the Ohio attorney general’s office for collection.”

 

Local solar-panel firm awash in debts; State of Ohio may never recoup millions owed: (11/11/12) The state of Ohio might not be able to recoup the full $10.3 million it is owed by Willard & Kelsey Solar Group. In addition to owing millions to the state, the Perrysburg solar-panel manufacturer is on the hook to pay thousands to vendors that provided it with goods or services. Bills, legal challenges, and financial troubles are mounting for Willard & Kelsey, which was once touted by high-profile Democrats like Vice President Joe Biden, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and former Gov. Ted Strickland. This fall, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office was appointed to collect taxpayer-funded loans that were granted to the company from the Ohio Development Services Agency (formerly the Department of Development) and the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority. Willard & Kelsey failed to make timely loan payments to both agencies and was unable to pay the loans in full when they were called due.

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