Solyndra officials had recently pronounced the company financially healthy. But at the end of 2010 they had privately confided to Energy Department officials that the company was rapidly going broke and on the verge of shutting down, according to newly released records and interviews. Solyndra’s inability to repay its debt leaves taxpayers liable for repaying the loans.
In February, the Energy Department agreed to a refinancing for Solyndra that allowed investors who put in new money to get their funds repaid first — before taxpayers — if the company defaulted on the federal loan.
Solyndra has attracted attention in Washington because the company’s largest investors include funds linked to billionaire Tulsa oil industrialist George Kaiser, a leading fundraiser for President Obama. In a statement last week, the oilman’s family foundation said he used no political influence to obtain the loan and held no conversations with government officials about Solyndra’s application.
Solyndra shuttered its offices last week. It filed for bankruptcy protection, laying off 1,100 workers at its plant in Fremont, Calif.
Federal agents conducted a day-long search at the California headquarters, removing boxes and copying computer files. They also searched the home of the company’s chief executive, Brian Harrison, according to Solyndra spokesman David Miller.
Miller said he believed the FBI was focusing on the loan guarantee, which also has been the subject of a House subcommittee investigation.
FBI spokesman Peter Lee said Thursday that the searches were part of a sealed investigation into the company by the FBI and the Energy Department’s inspector general.
The raid — and the serious investigation it revealed — surprised Solyndra, House investigators and federal officials who approved the loan guarantee in 2009.
Solyndra had been touted by Obama as a model for his administration’s effort to invest $80 billion in taxpayer funds in innovative companies and bolster a clean-technology industry in the United States.
“The future is here,” he said at a May 2010 speech at the plant.
Obama’s appearance came weeks after independent auditors had questioned the company’s ability to continue.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers said Thursday that they will demand answers from Solyndra next week at a previously scheduled hearing. Miller said Solyndra officials have still not decided whether they will appear.