Grand jury begins probe of Solyndra

Attorneys’ billing shows preparation

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A grand jury has begun investigating Solyndra LLC, the failed California solar-panel maker that lost more than a half-billion dollars in federal loans, according to law-firm billing records.

Weeks after Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in September, a judge allowed the company to hire a law firm to represent it in what court records at the time called a “federal criminal investigation.”

Now the firm, K&L Gates, has filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware a detailed, hour-by-hour account of how attorneys have been spending their time. Most of their efforts have focused on what the firm called the U.S. attorney’s office and Department of Justice investigation of Solyndra.

In an 18-page invoice from the law firm dated Dec. 9, the words “grand jury” appear numerous times: “Prepare response to grand jury subpoena,” one entry reads. Another said, “Review and prepare documents to respond to grand jury subpoena.”

The invoices also point to a meeting on Oct. 14 between K&L Gates attorney Jeffrey L. Bornstein, a former federal prosecutor in San Francisco, and an assistant U.S. attorney identified in the billing records only as “J. Nedrow.”

Jeffrey Nedrow is an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, which is the same office overseeing the Solyndra investigation. Mr. Nedrow was a prosecutor in the criminal trial against former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.

Yet another entry refers to a telephone call with “AUSA” — an abbreviation in legal circles that refers to assistant U.S. attorney — “regarding grand jury subpoena.”

The formation of an investigative grand jury would mark a significant development in the criminal investigation into Solyndra, which saw its offices raided by the FBI within days of its bankruptcy filing in September.

“The subpoenas would be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “The first things to happen in grand juries are subpoenas to collect every possible document you can.”

Federal authorities aren’t commenting on the probe. Jack Gillund, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment Tuesday when asked about a grand jury.

In an email Tuesday, Mr. Bornstein said, “Solyndra is continuing to cooperate with the United States Attorney’s Office in connection with its investigation.”

Grand jury subpoena

When Solyndra first sought to hire K&L Gates as special counsel, attorneys for the solar company cited the firm’s familiarity with the federal investigation and “many of the potential issues that may arise in the context of that investigation and potential litigation.”

K&L Gates attorneys reported 326 hours of work from Sept. 12 to Nov. 30, with rates ranging from $310 per hour for a paralegal to $640 per hour for Mr. Bornstein, who worked just over 80 hours. Another attorney worked about 50 hours at a rate of $525 per hour.

In recent court papers, the law firm described its work representing Solyndra as being “in connection with the United States Attorney’s Office & Department of Justice investigation of debtors.” The firm said in the filings that it worked with Solyndra on the production and review of documents, as well as responding “to subpoenas and other law enforcement requests.”

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