Green Power CEO to remain in federal custody

Tri-City Herald Staff WriterDecember 20, 2013 

— A Kennewick man accused of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and money laundering continued a "pattern of deceit" even though he knew he was facing a federal indictment, prosecutors said.

Green Power CEO Michael Spitzauer's request for bail was denied Friday. Magistrate Judge James P. Hutton agreed with prosecution arguments that he presents a flight risk.

Spitzauer, who moved to the U.S. in 1995 weeks after he was released from an Austrian prison, faces the possibility of deportation should he be convicted.

He pleaded innocent in federal court to all charges last week and remains in federal custody in Yakima.

Spitzauer is accused of defrauding investors of at least $6.7 million in the past seven years, although his debts reportedly total at least $21.4 million, according to court documents.

If convicted, Spitzauer could be imprisoned for 10 to 12 years, documents said. The U.S. is also seeking a $5 million judgment and forfeiture of his Kennewick home.

Spitzauer, a U.S. legal permanent resident, was convicted in Austria of forgery in 1989 and fraud in 1992, documents said. He was charged in connection with another alleged fraud scheme in that country in 1997, but successfully avoided extradition.

He also was convicted in 1998 in the U.S. for failing to report his prior criminal history to immigration authorities, documents said.

Federal prosecutors say Spitzauer, who first knew of the potential federal indictment in March, has been contacting his alleged victims, promising to repay them and claiming he had money coming from a new contract.

"As recently as last week, (Spitzauer) sent victims emails indicating he was on the verge of receiving $37.5 million in the near future, which the government believes is equally fraudulent," documents said.

Prosecutors say his promise to use new investors' money to repay victims is similar to the alleged fraud he has already been charged with.

"This appears to be yet another Ponzi-like scheme against the new investors," prosecutors said in the documents.

Spitzauer's Seattle attorney, Christopher Black, said in court documents that "there is nothing untoward about Mr. Spitzauer's attempts to repay investors."

Black argued that Spitzauer is not a flight risk because his wife, Melissa, and four children, ages 10 to 17, live in Kennewick and no one in the family has a valid passport. Spitzauer has not traveled abroad since 1996, he said. His wife and children are U.S. citizens.

"Mr. Spitzauer has been a hard-working family man for almost 20 years," Black said. "If Mr. Spitzauer were to attempt to flee from the U.S., he would either have to take his family with them, and thus turn his children and his wife into fugitives, or risk being permanently separated from his family."

Part of the reason Spitzauer is a flight risk is his habit of keeping few assets under his own name and using corporations and trusts to hold his family assets and Green Power proceeds, documents said.

Spitzauer said he has less than $661 in two bank accounts, documents said. But the use of corporate entities and trusts to hold assets makes it hard to determine what he actually has access to, federal prosecutors said.

Spitzauer's lifestyle contradicts his claims of having only $661 in cash, prosecutors allege. In early 2013, he made an offer to purchase a $2.5 million Kennewick home, although he did not end up buying it. His sons have expensive toys, including a Hummer, new gaming systems and more than 100 pairs of athletic shoes.

In Spitzauer's recent Chapter 7 bankruptcy case -- which was closed in October without erasing his debts -- his creditors claim he owes them about $21.4 million. Only about $44,200 was divided among the 14 companies and agencies who filed claims, documents said.

In addition, Spitzauer owes $42,000 to the state Department of Ecology for his unfinished biofuels plant. He and Green Power also owe the state Department of Labor & Industries more than $35,000 for unpaid wage claims and penalties, and more than $80,400 for unpaid workers compensation premiums.

Prosecutors said he told officials that his $1 million Kennewick home is owned by Beacon Light, a trust owned by his children, but he is president of that company and allegedly used funds from one of his victims to buy the house.

In February, Spitzauer had a Chinese investor wire about $985,000 to the personal account of one of his employees. That money was then used to pay the Port of Pasco with a cashier's check for about $495,700 and to pay $43,000 toward the mortgage on Spitzauer's Kennewick home, documents said.

Spitzauer was given $200,000 in cash from that account, documents said. In recent months, he withdrew about $28,000 in cash from a personal account and wired about $45,500 from another account to Senegal.

Black said the $200,000 is already spent, and the $28,000 was wired to Senegal for a business deal, which was also what the $45,500 was for.

"In recent months, Mr. Spitzauer has been primarily subsisting on borrowed funds," Black said.

Beacon Light is a limited liability company that is owned by trusts that are owned by Spitzauer's children, Black said in court documents.

Spitzauer has truthfully discussed his assets and the government has failed to show that he really does have assets beyond what he disclosed, Black said.

Green Power's only physical presence is at the Port of Pasco, documents said. Spitzauer claims to have developed technology to turn municipal waste into biofuels, although he never finished building a plant in the Big Pasco Industrial Park. The state Department of Ecology closed the unfinished plant in 2009 because he lacked the necessary air quality permits.

His lease at the port will expire Dec. 31, and will not be continued, according to officials. He does not owe the port any money, and port officials said they believe they have a large enough deposit to cover cleanup costs should they need to evict him.

w Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service