Financing the future
The air authority was the go-to agency for handling the advanced energy program loans. This meant that the air authority, which previously had dealt almost exclusively with bond financing, had to build its loan program from the ground up starting in mid-2008.
The air authority's former director and its board took an aggressive approach to finding a firm to assist the agency with the $84 million piece of the advanced energy program. From August, 2008, to September, 2008, the agency reviewed eight applications, selected two finalists, and hired USA Energy Advisors to vet program applicants.
A year later, the firm's role was expanded to craft the air authority loan agreements and monitor the loan recipients. To date, USA Energy Advisors has been paid $422,734.
"When the program came to the air authority from the legislature and the administration, we of course took our responsibility very seriously," said Gayle Channing Tenenbaum, the current chairman of the air authority's board.
"We had a time frame to try and get monies out to programs and get notification out for how people could apply for the loans. We knew we would need a great deal of assistance in doing that."
According to a filing with the Ohio Secretary of State, USA Energy Advisors was formed Sept. 3, 2008, just five days before the air authority's Sept. 9, 2008, meeting.
Barry Fromm, chairman and chief executive officer of Value Recovery Group, made USA Energy Advisors' presentation to the air authority. In an interview with The Blade, Mr. Fromm said the company's founding had nothing to do with the air authority contract.
Value Recovery Group is the parent company of USA Energy Advisors.
"I woke up one day and I said, 'What would be a good name to use?' So I typed in USA Energy Advisors and it popped up and nobody was using it so I said, 'Let's use that name, I think it really tells the story of who we are.'
"It had nothing to do with timing, we had other things going on."
Value Recovery Group, either on its own or through spin-off operations, has extensive experience with collecting debt owed to the government and has contracts with the U.S. Department of Education and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
It was formed in 1993 and also manages the U.S. Department of Energy's loan guarantee program.
The company previously was involved in a project that received bond financing from the air authority, and Mr. Fromm said that was the extent of his prior interaction with the air authority.
Although Mr. Fromm and his wife gave at least $13,500 to Mr. Strickland's re-election campaign, he said politics didn't play a part in how USA Energy Advisors vetted applicants for air authority loans.
Mr. Fromm said he donated money to the Strickland campaign to attend events headlined by Mr. Obama and U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
State records do not show any donations from Mr. Fromm to Mr. Strickland's campaign in the 2006 election.
"I gave two chunks for two opportunities to meet important people," he said. "It had nothing to do with Strickland."
Mr. Fromm also is the chairman of U.S. Railcar Co., which was involved in a $400 million high-speed railway project proposed under Mr. Strickland. That plan was quashed by Mr. Kasich when he took office.
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