FBI Searches Solyndra Offices WSJ.com 9/8/11
By BRENT KENDALL And CASSANDRA SWEET
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Thursday raided the headquarters of a California solar-panel maker that filed for bankruptcy this week and left U.S. taxpayers on the hook for as much as $527 million.
The law-enforcement action at Solyndra LLC's headquarters in Fremont, Calif., came unexpectedly and jolted Washington, where Republican lawmakers have criticized the Obama administration's support for the company.
FBI spokeswoman Julianne Sohn said agents executed a search warrant as part of a joint investigation with the Department of Energy and that department's inspector general.
She declined to say what the investigation is centered on, and a Solyndra spokesman, David Miller, said he didn't know what the FBI was looking for.
"There are teams of FBI agents executing search warrants around our buildings," said Mr. Miller. "We are cooperating and giving them access to whatever they want." The spokesman called the raid a "total surprise."
Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week and is trying to find a buyer to prevent a liquidation of its assets. The company found it couldn't survive as competition from well-financed Chinese makers pushed down solar-panel prices world-wide.
A federal financing agency provided $527 million in loans to Solyndra that were guaranteed by the Energy Department.
The company shut down its plant last week and laid off some 1,000 employees. The company still has some executives and others working at its Fremont campus, which includes offices and manufacturing facilities.
"Our hope is to sell the company, sell pieces or the whole thing or some of the" intellectual property, Mr. Miller said.
On Wednesday, a bankruptcy-court judge said Solyndra had one month to seek a buyer for its assets.
The company has been searching for a buyer or investor to bail it out since February, when an out-of-court restructuring reshuffled its debt load.
Under that restructuring, the Department of Energy agreed that in the event of default, much of the debt owed to the government would rank behind a new $69 million loan from private investors that the company said it needed to stay afloat.
The company intends to make "intensive efforts to see whether there's a third party who may provide adequate consideration," the company's chief financial officer, Wilbur G. Stover, said in court Wednesday. Mr. Stover also told the court that Solyndra is in negotiations with two prospective buyers but didn't identify who they were.
The Solyndra deal is a pockmark for the loan-guarantee program. The administration has defended the program and moved forward with it even as the Solyndra deal, the first executed under the stimulus-funded effort, has collapsed.
On Thursday, the department made final a separate $150 million guarantee for 1366 Technologies, another solar manufacturer, and it is expected to guarantee billions of dollars in additional loans before a Sept. 30 deadline.
After news of the Solyndra bankruptcy, filed Tuesday, a Department of Energy spokesman said this week that the department "will continue to proactively work to finalize transactions while protecting taxpayer interests."
House Republicans have questioned whether the White House interfered improperly with the Solyndra deal, pointing out that a foundation connected to a bundler for President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign invested in the company. The White House has denied impropriety.
The House Energy Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Solyndra bankruptcy next week.
Separately, two top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D., Colo.) called for Solyndra Chief Executive Brian Harrison to testify before the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee at a Sept. 14 hearing. Their letter noted Solyndra said it was "projected to double its revenues in 2011, there was 'strong demand in the United States' for its shipments."
"These assurances appear to contrast starkly with his company's decision to file for bankruptcy," said the lawmakers in a letter to Rep. Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.), chairman of the oversight committee.