Big Island Carbon officers paid nearly $500K


By NANCY COOK LAUER

Stephens Media

The top two officers of the bankrupt Big Island Carbon LLC together were paid almost $500,000 in salary and expenses last year, according to court filings.

In addition to $50 million in private venture capital, Big Island Carbon received a $5 million federal loan in 2010 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. There is no available record of the company receiving state money.

Hawaii County Finance Director Nancy Crawford said there’s no indication the company received any county funding either.

Filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware show Chief Executive Officer Rick Vidgen received $184,000 in salary and $21,228 in expenses for the 12-month period ending Oct. 30, while Chief Operating Officer Fred Baker received $240,000 in salary and $3,365 in expenses. A third executive, Controller Gerald Gruber, received $130,000.

In comparison, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie makes $117,312 annually. Richard Rosenblum, president and CEO of Hawaii Electric Industries, the parent company of Hawaiian Electric Co. with a net worth of $1.7 billion, makes $602,000.

Big Island Carbon had $15,353 in income in 2010, $38,845 in 2011 and $14,017 so far this year, according to court filings. Income came from shell sales, equipment rentals and interest.

Vidgen, Baker and Gruber, along with all 22 other employees, were laid off in early October.

When asked if Big Island Carbon’s compensation package was excessive for a startup company receiving federal stimulus funds, Vidgen said, “The salaries are a de minimis part of things, really.”

The Kawaihae factory was created in 2009 to convert macadamia nut shells into granular activated carbon for filtration devices and ultracapacitors to provide power boosts for windmills and hybrid cars. The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection Nov. 5 and continues to search for new investors or a buyer for the assets of the almost-completed plant.

Vidgen declined further comment and referred inquiries to Denham Capital Management, the project’s majority owner and secured lender. A spokesman for the company declined comment on the compensation issue. Delaware attorneys representing Big Island Carbon and major creditors did not return telephone calls Friday.

Just last year, the company was one of two Hawaii Island businesses featured in the Hawaii Business Innovation Showcase at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperative conference in Honolulu.

Big Island Carbon paid $12,844 in Hawaii County property taxes in August, but it still owes the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands $150,000 for land leased just south of the Hamakua Mac Nut Co. on Maluokalani Street.

Secured creditors are the McKinney, Texas-based Synergy Bank for $5 million and a Denham Capital holding company for $11.4 million.

Other creditors owed $395,684 in unsecured claims include $54,327 to Wesley Segawa & Associates of Hilo, $47,759 to Noguchi & Associates of Honolulu, $14,479 to Hamakua Mac Nut Co., $11,375 to Allied Machinery of Waipahu, Oahu, and $10,800 to Tinguely Development of Kailua-Kona.

Among $22,690,286 in assets, the company lists $371,598 in mac nut shells and $5,350 in accounts receivable from Worm Works Hawaii.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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