Bixby’s coal gasification held promise, witness says

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2014 - 8:29 PM

“I thought the sky was the limit,” energy consultant told court as defense began.

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Bob Walker , the founder of Select Comfort and former CEO of Bixby Energy, was arrested Wednesday on a federal indictment charging him with security fraud. walker left the Federal Courthouse in St. paul after his hearing. ](MARLIN LEVISON/STARTRIBUNE(mlevison@startribune.com (cq Bob Walker - files ) ORG XMIT: MIN2013082112323157

An energy consultant testified Monday that he was convinced that Bixby Energy was well on its way in 2008 and 2009 to successfully developing a process to turn coal into natural gas and other liquid fuels.

Michael Maskarinec, president of the firm MPX Inc., testified as the first defense witness for one-time Bixby CEO Robert Walker. Maskarinec said that he believed the company’s leading edge technology was viable and outlined his favorable conclusions in a special report for the company that ultimately became the basis for some investor presentations as well.

According to the report prepared by Maskarinec and his team of energy experts, Bixby’s coal gasification technology “is technically sound” and “feasible.” The report said the only road blocks to full commercialization of the process were “typical obstacles” for any start-up company.

“I thought the sky was the limit,” Maskarinec testified in U.S. District Court in St. Paul where Walker has been on trial since Jan. 13.

Walker, 71 is charged with fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion and witness tampering for his role in an alleged scam that ultimately resulted in the loss of $57 million by nearly 2,000 investors when Bixby’s first commercial attempt at coal gasification in China failed.

The government alleges that Walker deceived investors and used their funds to enrich himself and his family.

Under cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin, Maskarinec conceded that he was unaware Walker was using his report as part of a pitch to investors — including a reference in a Bixby newsletter that there were “no discernible flaws” in the technology.

“There were flaws that you identified, true?” MacLaughlin asked Maskarinec.

“True,” Maskarinec replied.

Also testifying Monday was Coon Rapids patent attorney N. Paul Friederichs III who was retained by Bixby to help with patent applications for the company.

Friederichs said he was familiar with the conclusions of the MPX report and had a good initial impression of Bixby’s engineering team.

“The machine was fine,” Friederichs testified. Later, however, Friederichs said he became concerned that the company’s engineering staff had become less cooperative.

Defense witnesses for Walker are expected to take up much of this week. Walker is expected to testify on his own behalf.

Walker founded Bixby in 2001 after a career as CEO of the Select Comfort mattress company. Bixby collapsed in 2012.

 

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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