One of the principals behind a company that claims to be bringing a 175-megawatt solar plant to southern Arizona was accused in the 1980s of running a bogus gold-mining scheme.
Christopher E. Pannos, one of his brothers, James, and two other people were among those charged by the Federal Trade Commission in 1988 of misrepresenting barren desert north of Phoenix as a rich gold deposit.
Now Pannos is coming back to Arizona with a different brother and a whole new set of amazing claims.
Pannos' Las Vegas company, Matinee Energy, is reportedly teaming up to build two large solar plants with the world's largest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy. We were among the first to report on the deal, inked in New York City last week, and have been trying to learn more ever since.
Today we talked with Chris Connell, a vice president with Matinee, who tried to assure us that everything is on the up-and-up.
Our first concerns about Matinee came last week, when we sought comment about the Hyundai Heavy news release concerning the deal. As we reported, the Korean company and Matinee say they want to build a 150-megawatt solar plant in or near Dragoon, and another 25-megawatt plan around Cochise.
When we tried to call Matinee at its Las Vegas office, we got nothing but a standard Qwest voicemail -- the kind typically used for home phones. No one returned our message. The company's Web site also leaves a lot to be desired. It's not as polished as we'd expect of a company doing a deal of this size.
It's hard to tell if the two brothers at the helm of the company, Michael and Christopher Pannos, have any experience in energy companies. The Web site gives no biographical information about them.
Christopher, as mentioned, is a former principal of Pannos Mining. The California-based company bilked millions of dollars from customers before being shut down by the FTC, says a Los Angeles Times article.
Connell, the vice president, says Christopher Pannos is not actually an employee of the company, though his name is on the corporate paperwork. The third brother, James, died a few years ago, Connell says.
People shouldn't judge the company by the Pannos' past, the Web site or the inexpensive voicemail, says Connell. There's simply no way Matinee could announce such a major deal with a big company like Hyundai Heavy unless it was real, he insists.
In news releases, Matinee claims it has the backing of JP Morgan Securities for "permanent financing" and that Hyundai Heavy will provide the technology, engineering and construction for the plants. If that's the case, we're not sure what Matinee is doing other than acting as the deal-maker.
Connell says Matinee has land in escrow near Dragoon for the plant, and is planning to complete the purchase. However, the Arizona Corporation Commission tells us that it must approve the location of any new power plants in Arizona. Neither Matinee nor Hyundai Heavy has submitted any paperwork to the Commission concerning the reported deal.
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We asked Connell why Matinee would purchase the land before getting the power-plant site approved by the Commission -- he wasn't sure, but says there are a few things left to finalize.
More news will trickle out about the project in coming weeks, Connell assures us.
A solar project planned by Matinee on the Navajo Nation, meanwhile, appears to be in a holding pattern.