Bankrupt solar-panel company Solyndra LLC and the criminal investigation into its downfall have faded from public view, but the law firm representing the company in a grand jury probe quietly has stayed busy, racking up nearly a half-million dollars in legal fees over the past year, records show.
Aside from documenting the personal fortunes of lawyers making up to $660 per hour, the fees are significant because of why the law firm was hired in the first place.
Weeks after Solyndra went bankrupt last year, having burned through more than a half-billion dollars in federal loan money, the company hired the K&L Gates LLC law firm for what lawyers called a "federal criminal investigation."
Now the firm wants to get paid.
Its final bill: $479,885, reflecting nearly 1,200 hours of work, according a review by The Washington Times of law firm invoices. About half of the money included in the firm's final bill already has been paid out, according to the firm's fee application filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
Based on a review of earlier invoices filed by K&L Gates, The Times first reported last year on the existence of a grand jury probe in the wake of Solyndra's downfall.
Attorneys did not respond immediately to messages Wednesday. But Jeffrey Bornstein, a K&L Gates partner and former federal prosecutor who earned $640 to $660 per hour for his Solyndra legal work, previously told The Times in an email that the solar-panel maker was cooperating with federal authorities.
With no clear sign of pending charges, the size and scope of the firm's legal work shed at least some light on the secretive criminal probe into Solyndra, which government officials still will neither confirm nor deny publicly.
Asked Wednesday whether the grand jury probe into Solyndra has concluded or remains active, Jack Gillund, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco, replied, "We have no comment."
In the firm's latest fee application, however, K&L Gates stated its lawyers had been communicating among the company, the U.S. attorney, the FBI and congressional staffers, as well as responding to subpoenas and other law enforcement requests.
Invoices provide a more detailed look at how attorneys spent their time. A bill reflecting legal work performed earlier this year shows a K&L Gates employee drafting a letter to "AUSA," which refers to assistant U.S. attorney, concerning "laptop documents."
Another entry refers to a conference with the Justice Department "regarding response to document request." Yet another entry describes meeting with an unnamed vendor regarding "copying computer image for production to DOJ."
An earlier bill from last year refers to a meeting between Mr. Bornstein and an assistant U.S. attorney identified as "J. Nedrow."
Jeffrey Nedrow is a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of California. He was a prosecutor in the criminal trial against former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
The firm's fee application, filed this week, also refers to an exhibit containing an hour-by-hour explanation of the firm's work in recent months, including November, but that exhibit could not be located on the public docket. But another law firm hired to represent the company in its bankruptcy listed an entry in a separate legal bill "Confer with Jeff Bornstein re: update on criminal" as recently as August.
When contacted by The Times about the missing entry, a bankruptcy clerk referred the issue to attorneys in the case, who did not respond by deadline Wednesday.
Despite the hundreds of hours spent representing Solyndra in connection with various investigations, K&L Gates' work is hardly a clear sign that the Justice Department will file charges.
The Justice Department also has been investigating the high-profile collapse of MF Global Holdings Ltd., a brokerage headed by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a big Democratic Party fundraiser. So far, nobody has been charged in that investigation, and media reports have suggested that charges are unlikely.
What's more, R. Todd Neilson, the former FBI agent hired by Solyndra to pore over the company's financial books, spent months investigating the company's collapse but ultimately said he couldn't come up with any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Serving as Solyndra's chief restructuring officer, Mr. Neilson found no wrongdoing by the company. Still, he concluded that investors and lenders, including the U.S. government, knew the company faced big risks, such as falling solar-panel prices and a global recession that cut demand sharply.
Mr. Neilson's detailed report in March concluded that "no material funds were diverted from their original use."
But weeks after Mr. Neilson made his findings public, K&L Gates invoices showed the federal probe remained unsettled with investigators busy looking for their own answers.
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Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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