The Justice Department probe into the collapse of solar panel maker Solyndra LLC after the company received a half-billion dollars in federal loan guarantees has prompted requests by government lawyers investigating the company for closing documents and invoices, according to newly filed court records.
The requests came to light after the law firm, K&L Gates, withdrew a pending fee application with the U.S. Bankruptcy in Delaware detailing nearly a half-million dollars in legal work it has provided Solyndra during the past year.
The Washington Times reported last week that lawyers had failed to include an accounting for months of legal work for the solar company in an application asking a bankruptcy judge to get paid.
The firm did not respond to requests by The Times for comment, but filed a new fee application this week containing an updated billing statement, along with an hour-by-hour accounting of how attorneys have been spending their time.
Those legal papers are significant because they reveal that the Justice Department over the summer sought “closing documents and invoices” as part of its investigation into Solyndra, nearly a year after the FBI raided its headquarters. The latest records also contain dozens of references to calls, meetings or requests involving the government attorneys.
One charge for about four hours of work on July 3 was to “review and analyze closing documents and invoices for production to DOJ,” referring to the Department of Justice.
Beyond revealing the continued interest of federal authorities, as well as frequent requests for documents, the firm’s legal bills shed few clues on whether any criminal charges will result after months of back and forth between the Justice Department and Solyndra.
Altogether, K&L Gates, which was hired specifically to represent Solyndra in what bankruptcy attorneys called a “federal criminal investigation,” has charged nearly a half-million dollars in legal fees for more than 1,200 hours of work during the past year.
The firm’s legal work continued through the first week of November with “joint defense” calls and conferences, according to records.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco, which has been investigating the company’s demise, declined to comment in an email to The Times last week.
The last entry among hundreds on the firm’s invoice refers to more than three hours spent to “review and process documents pursuant to document request.”
Billing records also show Jeffrey Bornstein, a K&L Gates partner and former federal prosecutor, earning $660 per hour for his Solyndra legal work. He previously told The Times in an email that the solar-panel maker was cooperating with federal authorities.
On Oct. 15, Mr. Bornstein spent 20 minutes working on the Solyndra case to “confer with joint defense regarding status and next steps,” records show.
Based on a review of earlier invoices filed by K&L Gates, The Times previously reported on the existence of a grand jury probe in the wake of Solyndra’s downfall.
An earlier invoice referred 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 based in San Francisco. He was a prosecutor in the criminal trial against former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
Hailed by the Obama administration, Solyndra became a political embarrassment after its bankruptcy and the focus of a long-running investigation the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The FBI raid on the company’s headquarters in September 2011 attracted widespread publicity, but since then the Justice Department has said nothing about the probe.
R. Todd Neilson, the former FBI agent hired by Solyndra to review company’s books, ultimately said he couldn’t come up with any evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
As the chief restructuring officer for Solyndra, whose chief executive resigned in the wake of the bankruptcy, Mr. Neilson found no wrongdoing by the company but did conclude that investors and lenders, including the U.S. government, knew the company faced big risks.
Mr. Neilson’s detailed report in March concluded that “no material funds were diverted from their original use.”
Still, the latest batch of K&L invoices reveal numerous requests for records by federal authorities since the release of Mr. Neilson’s report, leaving questions about whether crimes played a role in Solyndra’s demise unsettled for now.