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Auditor report shows several failed ventures still owe taxpayers money

Mississippi state Auditor Shad White's office issued its annual exceptions report for 2017 Tuesday and the report details all of the actions taken by the auditor's office to recover the misappropriated funds.

Here are three updates on three cases involving either aid to manufacturers or problems with one of the state's occupational licensing boards:

SOLAR: Stion Solar closed its facility in Hattiesburg in December. Photo by Stion

Stion Solar

Stion Solar received a $75 million loan in 2011 to build a $400 million solar panel manufacturing plant in Hattiesburg. The California-based solar firm later closed the plant in December because it couldn't compete with cheaper, foreign-made solar panels.

Khosla Ventures, which also was an investor in the now-defunct biofuels firm KiOR that also received state subsidies for a failed plant, had a controlling interest in Stion, which still owes taxpayers $74.8 million and has paid $11 million in interest.

Then-Auditor Stacey Pickering issued a demand letter to Stion for $93 million last March.

According to the report, the auditor's office and that of Attorney General Jim Hood are attempting to liquidate the plant and recover funds.

NOT STREET LEGAL: Green Tech Automotive's electric car factory in Tunica is now part of lawsuit by both the state and Tunica County seeking the return of incentives. Photo by Green Tech

green tech automotive

Gov. Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman teamed up an unlikely partner, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe to bring an electric car manufacturer to Tunica. Barbour signed into law a bill that gave $6 million to Green Tech and former Democratic McAuliffe, who would later serve as governor of Virginia, was the co-founder of the company and in charge of ensuring foreign investment.

McAuliffe hired former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's brother Anthony Rodham to sell foreign investors for the company, many of whom received visas into the U.S. in exchange for their investment.

McAuliffe left the company in the run-up to the 2013 Virginia governor’s race and the company's batteries quickly ran out of charge. The company — which manufactures a two-seat car with a top speed of 25 mph and a range of only 65 miles per charge that isn’t certified for use on U.S. roads — closed the factory in January 2017 and declared bankruptcy the next month.

Pickering issued a nearly $6.4 million demand last October for the return of the state’s $5 million loan to Greentech plus interest and other fees.

The state of Mississippi and Tunica County, which also provided incentives for GreenTech, are suing the company for $4.8 million. The company says it has debts of between $100 million and $150 million, with a similar amount of assets.

State Board of Cosmetology

On April 2, the auditor's office served several members of the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology with demand letters for $4,213.63 apiece for misuse of funds. An investigation by state auditors found more than $368,000 in checks and payments for cosmetology licenses — some more than nine months old — unsecured in the board's office.

Investigators also were unable to find any logs or record-keeping recording receipt of the funds, which were found stuffed into drawers and filing cabinets.

The board members issued demand letters by the OSA include:

  • Present board president Dorothy Ennis

  • Former member Waylon Garrett

  • Former member Glenda Honeycutt

  • Former member Bertha Johnson

  • Present member Darlene Smith

Only Johnson has repaid her $4,213.63 demand.

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