By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
The company already has made some progress toward its goals.
On March 6, the Benson Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to approve a conditional-use permit for the solar farm, meaning the city agrees the land can be used for that purpose.
With this first step behind it, Matinee's plans have a long way to go before fruition.
The uncertainty about whether the projects will become reality has caused trepidation among several Benson-area environmentalists and nearby landowners, who worry about what the developments' effects on the area watershed would be. If there's no green-energy benefit, the land still could be altered in a way that affects water runoff and disturbs the surrounding area, property owner Donald Buchanan told the Benson Planning and Zoning Commission at a February meeting.
However, until 2009, the site was approved for a 20,000-unit housing development called Whetstone Ranch, a venture that went bankrupt. The solar site presumably wouldn't affect the property more than the housing development, which could be resurrected someday.
Mary McCool, director of the Community Watershed Alliance, told the commission on March 6 that her group didn't oppose the project but would keep an eye on it for potential problems.
The permit granted last month allows limited plant removal but no major grading or construction. Matinee has yet to apply for permits for the latter, nor has it applied for a use permit for its planned solar campus.
So far, taxpayer money isn't at play in Matinee's projects.
Matinee's solar-power plants would qualify for a federal 30 percent tax credit, but only if and when they're hooked up to the power grid.
The company's penchant for extreme secrecy makes it hard to tell what Matinee is really up to, why it reportedly has misrepresented itself, and who would lose money if its ventures fail.
Of all Matinee's problems, though, nothing seems to bode more poorly than the histories of two of its original founding members: Christopher Pannos, former head of Pannos Mining (shut down in 1988 for bilking investors out of millions of dollars), and his politically connected brother, Michael.
"Big Gold Scam," screamed one headline on the national news story in November 1988.
News articles, plus U.S. Federal Trade Commission records, help tell how Christopher Pannos, along with another now-deceased brother, James, and their associates, sold shares in a bogus gold mine just north of Wickenburg to thousands of people.
These were no ordinary con artists; the fraud was sophisticated, well-funded, and one of the most notorious of its kind. Pannos Mining made many false filings with the Maricopa County Recorder's office, filings that still can be found on the county's website under recorder.maricopa.gov. The firm contracted with 18 boiler-room telemarketing companies across the country to sell the shares. Victims were told they were buying interests in the high-grade ore coming from the mine and that they'd be paid back later in processed gold bullion that would be worth more than their initial investments.
An 89-year-old priest sank $5,000 into the scheme, consumer advocate David Horowitz reported. A story from Illinois mentions how 21 people there invested $118,000 together. Nationwide, there were many more such victims.
Investigators tested the dirt at the site of the alleged gold mine — the samples contained no gold or silver ore.
A cease-and-desist order shut down Pannos Mining and its boiler rooms. The Pannos brothers were punished for their leading roles in the scam, agreeing to a judgment against them of $2.4 million. Less than $7,000 of that has been paid, FTC records show. The judgment never expires.
If Matinee Energy manages to make money for Christopher Pannos, he may well get a knock on his door from people demanding a return on their gold-mine investments.
Whatever Christopher Pannos has been doing for the past 24 years, he seems to enjoy starting new corporations in Nevada. Current records show that he's been an officer in 16 of them since the mid-1990s. None of the corporations appears to have been a viable venture, since none has Internet presence.
Archived records obtained from the Nevada Secretary of State's Office for this article show that Matinee Energy was formed in fall 2006 by Christopher Pannos and Nevada resident Larry Knight, who's listed as a past or present officer in 18 corporations.
Knight listed his address as a 2,000-square-foot home at 2920 Candelaria Drive in Henderson, Nevada, just outside Las Vegas. Christopher Pannos, meanwhile, said his address was 5646 West Agate Avenue in Enterprise, another Vegas suburb. Both addresses have been used by Matinee Energy on various websites and in news releases, and both have been used in papers filed by many other Nevada corporations registered by the pair, such as Matinee Oil, Matinee Development-Flagstaff, Renewable Energy Marketing, and the intriguingly named Oopha Land 3.
Most of the pair's companies have had their corporate statuses revoked, or are in default, for failing to file timely updates.
Not an impressive track record.
But the question of who's behind this wanna-be solar company gets even more interesting with the addition of brother Michael Pannos.
He became Matinee Energy's third principal in January 2010, records show. But he'd always had a link to the firm: Matinee's Agate Avenue address, a residential mini-mansion of 7,000 square feet that once fetched prices of more than $1 million, was owned by Michael Pannos from 2005 until a foreclosure sale in October 2010.