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FBI raids solar panel firm Solyndra after bankruptcy filing

Energy Department agents also execute search warrants at the Northern California company, which had received $535 million in federal stimulus loan guarantees.

September 08, 2011|By Stuart Pfeifer and Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times
  • An FBI agent heads into the headquarters of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc. in Fremont, Calif. Search warrants were served on the bankrupt company, which had received $535 million in federal stimulus loan guarantees.
An FBI agent heads into the headquarters of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra… (Paul Sakuma, Associated…)

Federal agents executed a search warrant at the Northern California headquarters of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc., which filed for bankruptcy protection this week despite receiving $535 million in federal stimulus loan guarantees.

The FBI and Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General confirmed that their agents were involved in the raid Thursday at Solyndra's offices in Fremont but declined to discuss what they were investigating. FBI spokesman Peter D. Lee said documents related to the search had been sealed.

Last week, Solyndra abruptly announced that it was ceasing operations and laying off 1,100 employees, a move the company attributed to intense foreign competition and a "global oversupply of solar panels." The company filed for bankruptcy Tuesday.

Republicans have seized on Solyndra's downfall as a sign that President Obama's stimulus and "green jobs" campaign were failures. They have also noted that key Obama backer George Kaiser was a major investor in Solyndra, the first company to receive a Department of Energy loan guarantee to boost alternative energy companies. The program received additional funding under 2009's federal economic stimulus effort.

"The FBI raid further underscores that Solyndra was a bad bet from the beginning and put taxpayers at unnecessary risk," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) chairman of its Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, said in a joint statement. "President Obama's signature green jobs program went from a darling of the administration to bankruptcy to now the subject of an FBI raid in a matter of days."

Solyndra spokesman Dave Miller said the federal raid came as a surprise but that the company was "fully cooperating" with investigators.

He said he did not know what the federal agents were looking for but speculated it could be related to the $535-million loan guarantee, of which the company drew $527 million.

A skeleton team of about 100 employees is still working at the factory during a "wind-down" process, Miller said.

The raid came about 16 months after Obama visited Solyndra and praised the federal government's investments in clean energy and other sectors.

"We've got to go back to making things," the president said at the May 26, 2010, appearance at Solyndra. "Not only would this spur hiring by businesses, it would create jobs in sectors with incredible potential to propel our economy for years, for decades to come. There is no better example than energy."

Solyndra was one of about 40 alternative energy projects funded over the last two years through an Energy Department loan program that helped companies involved with major wind, solar, nuclear and ethanol projects. The Energy Department had said it expected the combined projects to create about 60,000 jobs.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee had been investigating the Solyndra loans since February and had scheduled a hearing next Wednesday to get additional details about the loan guarantee, even before federal agents arrived at Solyndra on Thursday.

The committee had previously issued subpoenas to obtain documents about the Solyndra loans from the administration's Office of Management and Budget.

Officials from the budget office, the Department of Energy and Solyndra's president and chief executive, Brian Harrison, have been invited to testify at next week's hearing.

Reps. Harry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) on Thursday encouraged Harrison to testify at Wednesday's hearing.

In a letter to Stearns, they said Harrison told them less than two months ago that Solyndra was "in strong financial position and in no danger of failing" and projected that the company would double its revenue in 2011.

"These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company's decision to file for bankruptcy last week," Waxman and DeGette said in the letter.

"Any thorough examination of the Solyndra loan guarantee should include the opportunity to ask Mr. Harrison about his representations. He did not convey to us the perilous condition of the company and the committee should know why."

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

ron.white@latimes.com

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