Concern raised over Mo. firm that owes on $1M loan
Monday, December 12, 2011
KIRKSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — The president of a north-central Missouri company that has not paid off a state loan also had tax problems from another business, records show.
Missouri awarded a $1 million loan to Wi-Fi Sensors Inc. through the Community Development Block Grant program, which consists of federal money funneled through the states. The Kirksville Daily Express reports (http://bit.ly/tGYBRU ) that when the Wi-Fi Sensors sought the loan from the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the state of California had a lien against a former company that was operated by Wi-Fi’s president.
Peter Fuhr and David Fuhr were listed as “active owners” for Wi-Fi Sensors on the company’s loan application. A tax lien was filed in January 2006 against Peter Fuhr’s former company, B4HI Inc., for $1,067.15 in unpaid taxes from 2003. The business’ address matches the home address listed for a 2004 federal tax lien for $126,467 against Peter and Moira Hutchins-Fuhr. The federal tax lien was released in December 2006, and the Santa Cruz County, Calif., recorders office said no release or satisfaction had been filed for the lien against B4HI Inc.
The Fuhrs said they were unaware of the tax lien against the California company and that Missouri officials did not raise the issue when they applied for the loan. The Missouri Department of Economic Development declined to address questions about the Wi-Fi Sensors project because of ongoing litigation.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in July 2009 visited the future assembly line for Wi-Fi Sensors and announced it would create dozens of well-paying jobs in rural northern Missouri. The high-tech company since then has laid off its employees.
The state’s economic development efforts have faced recent scrutiny, including over a failed plan for an artificial sweetener facility in Moberly. Missouri offered about $17 million of incentives and the city Moberly issued $39 million in bonds to finance construction of the facility for Mamtek U.S. Inc. Work stopped on the factory after Mamtek missed a bond payment and no state incentives were ever paid. Lawmakers have held hearings, and the Missouri attorney general and the federal Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating.
Applications for the state loan for the Wi-Fi Sensors project in Kirksville indicated officials “will likely not be approved for any Project if the Company, owner of 50 percent or more of the Company’s stock, or an Active Owner” has overdue taxes or pending or threatened liens. Individuals listed as “active owners” are to disclose information about overdue taxes and any payment agreements.
It is unclear whether Wi-Fi Sensors should have been disqualified from the loan if the previous California tax lien was discovered. According to documents obtained by the Daily Express through an open records request, the loan applications are examined by a committee of officials from the state economic development agency that is designed to review submissions similar to how a bank would process a loan application. The committee then makes a recommendation on the application.
During its review, Missouri officials examine the tax history and creditworthiness of a company and its leaders. However, it appears officials use a case-by-case approach when individuals tied to the company have past tax problems, with consideration for the amount of money owed, the collateral tied to the application and the other circumstances.
Records show the Department of Economic Development since 2000 has awarded 54 loans through the Community Development Block Grant program to 51 companies for $26,581,500. The newspaper verified that 27 of those businesses are still operating and 17 have closed. The status of seven others was unknown.
Since Nixon took office in January 2009, state officials have received 10 applications for loans and awarded four, including the one to Wi-Fi Sensors. Two of the other businesses are open, and the status of one other company was unknown.