The U.S. trustee for Minnesota is seeking court approval to launch an independent investigation of commodities trader Tim Krieger and his businesses, according to a recent filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
The investigation could be good news for Krieger’s investors, who stand to lose about $30 million unless the trustee is able to find other assets that rightfully belong to Aspirity Energy, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
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.
Aspirity now has less than $50,000 in the bank, according to its most recent financial statement.
In his motion, filed last week, trustee Daniel M. McDermott said he wants to find out if assets were fraudulently removed from Aspirity. He said the move was prompted by a Star Tribune article that raised questions of whether Krieger or others engaged in what he called “improper conduct.”
“There is no reason to believe that current management will independently and zealously pursue these assets,” McDermott said in the motion. “Instead, an independent trustee is needed to make sure that everything available for liquidation is in fact liquidated.”
A hearing on McDermott’s motion will be held on Nov. 15.
In divorce records, Krieger’s estranged wife, Whitney, said the couple previously maintained an “extravagant” lifestyle, including frequent vacations to five-star resorts and the purchase of luxury vehicles, such as a $200,000 Porsche Cayenne. However, Whitney Krieger said she recently fired her divorce attorney because she doesn’t believe she will be able to obtain a significant cash settlement from her husband. She is now negotiating her own divorce settlement with Krieger.
“Where is all of that money?” she asked. “I don’t know. But I have absolutely zero belief that he would be hiding any assets at this point.”
In a brief telephone interview, Krieger denied hiding assets. He hung up when asked if he had spent the $18 million.
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.
After founding Twin Cities Power in 2007, he hired some of the nation’s top energy traders and opened new offices in New Jersey, Oklahoma and Canada. In its first three years, Twin Cities Power generated a total of $76 million in gross profits on energy trading, court records show.
Things turned sour, however, after Krieger had a falling out with his initial investors, who sued after Krieger and other owners took millions of dollars in cash distributions during a year in which the company lost money, court records show. After those investors bailed out in 2011, Krieger began marketing $50 million in unsecured subordinated notes, a small-scale form of junk bonds. He wound up recruiting about 700 small investors attracted to average yields of 14 percent.
Revenue continued to climb, reaching a high of $49 million in 2014, but the company’s profits began to shrink after Twin Cities Power moved into the business of selling retail electricity to homeowners in deregulated states. In 2015, with profits tanking, Krieger changed the name of the company to Aspirity and transferred most of its remaining assets — including its core trading business — to his private company, now known as Diversified Trading. In return, Aspirity received a $22 million term loan.
Aspirity filed for bankruptcy after Krieger indicated he was unable to repay the remaining balance, which is about $15 million.
Aspirity CEO Scott Lutz, who is trying to reorganize the business, recently told investors that he is considering a lawsuit against Krieger to force him into repaying the loan.
“We are feeling optimistic that our efforts will succeed,” Lutz said in a written response to the Star Tribune.
However, McDermott said Aspirity’s bankruptcy case should be converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation, citing “gross mismanagement of the estate” before its June bankruptcy filing.
“Nothing remains of the business to reorganize,” McDermott said in the motion.
In a July affidavit, Whitney Krieger said the company’s financial problems did not cause her husband “to curb his spending.” She told the court that Tim Krieger had more than $2 million in one bank account. She also said he sold one of his businesses for $9 million and recently sold several residential properties, including a vacation home in Washington state for more than $1 million.
“Money was never an object for Tim, and he did everything over the top,” Whitney Krieger said in the affidavit. “Things did not change, even when his companies were supposedly in trouble.”
Krieger, however, maintains he is facing “financial ruin,” according to an affidavit he filed in the divorce case. Though his expenses are running about $50,000 per month, Krieger said he is currently without a source of income and lacks the ability to pay Whitney Krieger spousal support. He said his net worth declined about $20 million in recent years, but he did not indicate the size of his current holdings in public records.
In an interview, Whitney Krieger said she does not believe her husband is improperly using assets from Aspirity to start over in a new trading business that could earn him $1 million annually. She said she doesn’t believe he would do anything to jeopardize the future of his two teenage daughters because “the only thing that matters to him in life is his girls.”
“He is not a criminal,” Whitney Krieger said.