A federal judge cleared the way Wednesday for an investigation of commodities trader Tim Krieger, who is suspected of improperly removing millions of dollars in assets before the bankruptcy of his electricity company, Aspirity Energy.
After a 10-minute hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kathleen H. Sanberg said she agreed with the U.S. Trustee for Minnesota that an “independent” probe is necessary to ensure the company’s creditors recover whatever they can from the failed power trading business. About 700 small investors stand to lose about $30 million they loaned the company.
In a court filing, U.S. Trustee Daniel M. McDermott said he wanted to find out if assets were fraudulently removed from Minnetonka-based Aspirity before its June bankruptcy filing. He said the move was prompted by a Star Tribune article that raised questions of whether Krieger or others engaged in what McDermott called “improper conduct.”
Krieger, who owns about 70 percent of Aspirity, transferred most of the company’s assets to another business he controls before the energy company collapsed, corporate records show.
Since 2011, Krieger paid himself more than $18 million, mostly in the form of distributions from the company’s dwindling cash reserves, records show.
Neither Krieger nor his attorney, Janel Dressen, responded to requests for comment.
The trustee’s request to convert the company’s bankruptcy into a Chapter 7 liquidation was opposed by Aspirity CEO Scott Lutz, who has been trying to convince the company’s creditors to give him more time to reorganize the business.
In a motion filed last week on behalf of Aspirity, attorney Steven Nosek argued that an affiliate of Aspirity is “currently pursuing Timothy Krieger,” and that if the proposed litigation is successful, “it is possible that the debtor would have funds available to permit it to reorganize.”
The trustee, however, does not want Lutz or other executives to continue to rack up expenses. In court, attorney Michael Fadlovich, who represents the trustee, argued that Aspirity “is clearly out of business.”
Moreover, in a court filing, Fadlovich argued that Aspirity’s executives were guilty of “gross mismanagement” and could not be trusted to “zealously” pursue any hidden assets.
Through his attorney, Lutz denied that allegation, but the company agreed in a court filing that “there are claims involving the debtor that should be investigated.”
A former college wrestling star who won two national titles at Iowa State, Krieger made millions by trading cheese and later electricity, court records show. His power company generated revenue reaching as high as $49 million in 2014, but the company’s profits plunged when it moved into the business of selling retail electricity to homeowners in deregulated states.
Aspirity filed for bankruptcy after Krieger indicated he would not repay about $15 million he owed Aspirity for assets he removed in 2015, corporate records show.
“This case has got a lot of press and a lot of people are watching it,” Fadlovich told the judge during Wednesday’s hearing. “It has become, for whatever reason, a high-profile case.”