FBI Searches Bankrupt Solar Manufacturer Solyndra

FBI agents executed search warrants on Thursday, at the headquarters of California solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, which received more than $500 million in federal loan guarantees before filing for bankruptcy last week.

Solyndra's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.
Source: Solyndra
Solyndra's headquarters in Fremont, Calif.

Agents executed multiple search warrants at the company's headquarters in Fremont as part of an investigation with the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General, according to FBI spokeswoman Julianne Sohn.

Sohn said she could not provide details about the investigation, including what agents were gathering in the company's offices as the search continued hours after the early morning raid. A white truck in the company's parking lot was being filled with items taken by the FBI.

Solyndra spokesman Dave Miller said agents were collecting documents, but the company did not know the reason for the search. Company executives were on the premises but were not likely to make a statement Thursday, he said.

"It certainly was a shock this morning to arrive and see the FBI here this morning," he said.

The assumption was that the search was related to the loan guarantees, Miller said.

Solyndra was held up as the model for government investment in green technology. Before it announced last week that it was filing for bankruptcy and laying off 1,100 workers, it was touted by President Barack Obama as a beneficiary of his administration's economic policies. The president visited the company last year.

The $535 million loan guarantee was part of the $862 billion economic stimulus package that Congress passed in 2009.

But Solyndra, like other companies in the nation's solar energy, fell on hard times. The price for solar panels has tanked, in part because of heavy competition from Chinese companies, dropping by about 42 percent this year.

"It's really sad to everybody who worked here," Miller said. "We believed in the technology."

Solyndra raised about $528 million of the $535 million in federal loan guarantees, according to its bankruptcy filing.

The loan attracted attention from Republican lawmakers early on as they questioned whether politics played a role in the company getting funding. One of the company's investors, George Kaiser of Oklahoma, helped raised money for President Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns, chairman of a House subcommittee investigating Solyndra, recently called on the White House to release all communications between the White House and Solyndra and its investors. The House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a subpoena in July seeking documents from the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats opposed those efforts, but on Thursday began to change their tact. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., called on Stearns to invite Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison to a hearing on Sept. 14. Waxman said that Harrison met with committee members less than two months ago and assured lawmakers that the company was in a strong financial position.

"These assurances appear to contrasts starkly with the company's decision to file for bankruptcy...," Waxman said.

Republicans are using Solyndra's financial woes as ammunition in attacking the effectiveness of the stimulus package. The raid Thursday morning came just hours before the president appears before both chambers of Congress to appeal for more legislation that would help the economy and reduce the nation's 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

The company is also being sued by workers who were abruptly laid off after last week's announcement.