CEO and founder of politically connected company questioned on day of raid. Now some Democrats wonder if they'd been misled
FBI agents confiscate boxes from Solyndra headquarters to be used as evidence in their investigation.Paul Sakuma/AP
Federal agents have expanded their examination of the now-bankrupt California solar power company Solyndra, visiting the homes of the company's chief executive, a founder, and a former executive, examining computer files and documents, the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News and ABC News have learned.
Agents visited the homes of CEO Brian Harrison and company founder Chris Gronet. Agents also visited the home of a third executive involved in the company from the start, according to a source who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because of the legal sensitivity of the situation.
Gronet, reached at his home Friday morning, did not dispute that his home was visited by federal agents a day earlier.
“I’m sorry,” Gronet said in an interview. “You probably understand full well that I cannot comment.”
Solyndra spokesman David Miller confirmed agents visited Harrison’s home on Thursday, when the FBI and Energy Department Inspector General arrived at the company's headquarters in Fremont, Calif., seizing boxes of records.
“Yeah, they did go to his house and speak to him briefly,” Miller said. “I don’t know what they may have taken. I believe they took a look at his computer.” They took nothing from the house, he added.
The third executive, identified by the source, could not be reached for comment.
Julie Sohn, a spokeswoman with the FBI in San Francisco, declined to discuss details of the raid or the government’s investigation. “Unfortunately, our affidavits are still sealed so we can’t go into any details,” Sohn said.
The raid and visits come amid increasing evidence the Justice Department and Inspector General are exploring whether Solyndra misled the government in securing its $535 million loan in 2009 – and landing a vital refinancing of that loan earlier this year. Beginning in March, iWatch News, in partnership with ABC News, was first to report on simmering questions about the role political influence may have played in Solyndra's selection as the Obama administration's first loan guarantee recipient. One of the lead private investors in Solyndra was an Oklahoma billionaire who served as an Obama "bundler," raising money during the 2008 presidential campaign, and who is a frequent visitor to the White House.
Members of Congress leading a House investigation of the Energy Department loan have focused specifically on visits Harrison made to Washington in July, when he said the company was on sound footing and expanding.
Less than two months after that visit, Solyndra fired 1,100 workers and filed for bankruptcy – a stinging collapse for the Obama administration, which has made the loan a showpiece as its first investment in job-creating green energy technology.
Republican members of the House have said that failing proves the deal was doomed from the start. Now, even Democratic leaders are questioning whether Solyndra misled the government.
“Less than two months ago, Mr. Harrison met with us and other Committee members to assure us that Solyndra was in a strong financial position and in no danger of failing,” Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wrote to Republicans leading the investigation. “These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company’s decision to file for bankruptcy last week.”
Those questions reveal a significant turn, as DeGette and Waxman were among members to vote against subpoenaing the White House budget office for records on the loan. Now, they are among those pressing questions – as the House has called Harrison to testify next week.
Miller, the Solyndra spokesman, noted that Harrison was not with the company when it secured the loan in 2009. He was, however, CEO when Solyndra landed a government refinancing that extended its payment period.
When Harrison came to Washington in July, he said, the company was hoping to land more financing to stay afloat. “When we were there, the circumstances of the company, business was good, we had record shipments. We had momentum in the marketplace,” Miller said.
Asked if the government’s focus is on whether Solyndra misled officials in securing the money, Miller said: “I really can’t speculate on what they are looking for.”
“I know we have been asked to appear next week at a Congressional hearing and I expect that will be the nature of the questions they will ask there,” the spokesman added. “That committee is asking questions about that.”
The Energy Department was keeping a close eye on Solyndra during those crucial months – sitting in on board meetings as an observer as part of the loan restructuring, iWatch News and ABC reported Thursday. That raises key questions: Did DOE miss obvious warning signs of the company’s troubles in the final months before its collapse?
Energy officials have said they viewed the Solyndra venture as a possible "game changer" in the green energy movement.
“Sophisticated, professional private investors, who put more than $1 billion of their own money behind Solyndra, came to the same conclusion as the Department: that Solyndra was an extremely promising company with innovative technology and a very good investment,” a spokesman said this week.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said authorities searched the homes of executives. Solyndra officials say that while agents visited homes of key executives, they did not search them.Reprinted by Permission © 2013, The Center for Public Integrity®. All Rights Reserved.