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9Wants to Know: Generous salaries for managers of failed stimulus project

9:58 PM, Nov 14, 2013   |    comments
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Mike Ruffatto made his wealth by owning power plants in California and has been photographed with celebrities while attending high-end charity events.

DENVER - 9Wants to Know has learned a wealthy Colorado oil and gas attorney and the son of a U.S. Senator took in generous salaries thanks to a stimulus project that didn't create one new job, according to government records.

"They still haven't got anything done," said Wyoming cattle rancher Dan Tracy. Tracy owns land next to a proposed power plant, known as the Two Elk project. "He got some stimulus money, but I don't know what he's done with that."

North American Power Group, a Greenwood Village power company, received two stimulus grants totaling nearly $10 million in 2009.

Colorado attorney Mike Ruffatto, who owns NAPG, paid himself $955,343 from grant funds, according to Department of Energy records obtained and verified by 9Wants to Know.

Brad Enzi, the son of U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, works under Ruffatto and collected $128,394 in compensation, according to the DOE records.

The grants, according to government records, should have been used to hire drilling companies to study carbon sequestration near Wright, Wyoming. Carbon sequestration is a process that stores power plant burn off (carbon dioxide) underground rather than letting it pollute the air.

Recovery.gov, the government website that tracks stimulus spending, reports not one new job was created.

The carbon sequestration study would have focused on the feasibility of the land around the area where Ruffatto has plans to build the Two Elk power plant. The power plant has yet to be built.

"All you see is paperwork being done and nothing's getting built," said Joe Monteleon, who lives in Wright, Wyoming. "There's a lot of people out here who don't have jobs that could really use it."

Other Payments

Not only did Ruffatto pay himself a generous salary under the project, 9Wants to Know found $2.7 million was paid to a company called North American Land and Livestock. A business registration with the Wyoming Secretary of State's Office lists Ruffatto's name and address.

It's unclear how the $2.7 million paid out to North American Land and Livestock was spent, but Recovery.gov describes the company as "Heavy equipment mobilization; drilling pad and mud pit construction; drilling water procurement; layout area preparation."

"I haven't seen anybody now for possibly three years," said Dan Tracy when asked when he last saw work in the area. "This outfit has never panned out."

Recovery.gov also shows part of the grants were awarded to Stanford University and Montana State University for carbon sequestration research.

The Department of Energy suspended the NAPG grants amid concerns. While the money is accounted for, much of it went to salaries.

The Department of Energy referred calls about the Two Elk project to the Department of Justice.

A DOJ spokesperson "couldn't confirm nor deny" the agency was reviewing the project.

Ruffatto

Mike Ruffatto made his wealth by owning power plants in California and has been photographed with celebrities while attending high-end charity events.

The University of Denver website says Ruffatto pledged a $5 million dollar donation to the school several years ago.

Property records show Ruffatto owns a 10,000 square foot mansion in Cherry Hills valued at $7 million.

9Wants to Know first began making phone calls to Ruffatto's NAPG office in May for this report. Ruffatto never returned several calls.

After 9Wants to Know couldn't find him after visits to his Cherry Hills home and Denver Tech Center office, a public relations manager for NAPG responded saying no public statements would be made about the Two Elk project until a government review is complete.

Spokesman Charlie Russell sent the following statement to 9Wants to Know:

"The Two Elk Energy Park is designed as an efficient, integrated and environmentally sound electric plant. The Two Elk project was also involved in a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to study carbon sequestration. That agreement is currently being reviewed by the government and Two Elk has provided substantial information in response to the government's request. As that review is still in progress, Two Elk's owner, North American Power Group, does not believe it is appropriate to make public comment regarding the planning, the research, or any aspect of the DOE funding. Once the government has completed its review, North American Power Group would be happy to consider your request for an interview."

This week, 9Wants to Know was able to find Ruffatto entering his NAPG office building. He declined to speak about the Two Elk project, saying he didn't have the time.

Rone Tempest, a reporter for the WyoFile, an online Wyoming newspaper, was the first to break news about the failed Two Elk Project.

Tempest was able to speak to Ruffatto on the record about the project months ago during the early stages of his reporting.

"He actually told me he took a pay cut because if he were to bill the government at the rate he pays himself in his own company, it would have been higher," Tempest said.

Enzi

9Wants to Know also left numerous messages with Brad Enzi without a response.

Enzi's father, Sen. Mike Enzi, wasn't a fan of the stimulus and voted against the program.

"Mistakes will be made, plans will be poorly crafted and precious taxpayer money will be wasted," Senator Enzi said on the floor of the Senate in 2009.

A spokesperson for Enzi's office said the senator has no connection to the Two Elk project whatsoever.

A similar project

The University of Wyoming received nearly the same amount in a different stimulus grant for a carbon sequestration study near Rock Springs, Wyoming. The government reports more than 60 jobs were created under the project which is expected to be completed this December.

What's next?

While NAPG acknowledges a government review of the project, the DOJ is not giving any sign or clue about the nature of a review.

It is possible Ruffatto's company may be forced to pay back the stimulus funds under a settlement with the Federal government.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him
jeremy.jojola@9news.com

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