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Solyndra executives won't answer questions at House hearing

The solar power company's CEO and chief financial officer will invoke their 5th Amendment rights, their attorneys said.

September 20, 2011|By Stuart Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times
  • The exterior of bankrupt Solyndra in Fremont, Calif.
The exterior of bankrupt Solyndra in Fremont, Calif. (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Solyndra's chief executive and chief financial officer will invoke their 5th Amendment rights and not answer questions during a Friday hearing before a House investigative committee, their attorneys said.

Attorneys for CEO Brian Harrison and CFO W.G. "Bill" Stover sent letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative subcommittee Tuesday saying they would not answer any questions during the hearing. The committee is looking into the Fremont, Calif., solar power company's $535-million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy.

"I have advised Mr. Harrison that he should decline to answer questions put to him by this subcommittee based on his rights under the 5th Amendment," Harrison's attorney, Walter F. Brown Jr., said in a letter to Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the committee's chairman, and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

"This is not a decision arrived at lightly, but it is a decision dictated by current circumstances," Brown said in the letter.

Solyndra ceased operations Aug. 31, laying off 1,100 employees and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection six days later. Agents with the FBI and the Energy Department's inspector general executed a search warrant at the company's headquarters Sept. 8.

The FBI and Energy Department have declined to say what prompted the investigation or whom it is targeting.

Stover's attorney, Jan Nielsen Little, said in a letter to the committee that the criminal investigations prompted the decision for Stover to decline to testify. Stover still intends to appear at the hearing, Little said.

"Under these circumstances, Mr. Stover must invoke his rights under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution" against self-incrimination, Little wrote. "It would be irresponsible for anyone in his position not to do so."

Solyndra was the first recipient of Energy Department loans under the Obama administration intended to spur economic growth and create jobs through investments in green technology. To date it is the only DOE loan recipient to cease operations.

Solyndra released a statement that acknowledged the executives' plans to take the Fifth, but said the company "is not aware of any wrongdoing by Solyndra officers, directors or employees in conjunction with the DOE loan guarantee or otherwise, and the company is cooperating fully with the office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of California in its investigation."

The company also said it "believes that the record will establish that Solyndra carefully followed the rules of the competitive application process, starting in December 2006 under the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration."

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