LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky would seek to recoup its $15 million investment in an aluminum plant envisioned near Ashland under a bill introduced in the General Assembly this week.
Senate Bill 48, filed Thursday by Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), orders the state to recover the money, along with interest and other fees, by the end of 2022 or proceed with a lawsuit.
Without identifying the project, the state legislature approved spending the funds in the final hours of the 2017 session at the behest of then-Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration. It was later revealed that a company called Braidy Industries planned to build a $1.7 billion aluminum rolling mill in northeastern Kentucky, creating 600 jobs.
The mill has failed to materialize. Financing has come up short. Fundraising deadlines have come and gone. Among other things, an investigation commissioned by the company claimed that documents were altered to falsely portray investor interest.
Braidy, known now as Unity Aluminum, announced in early 2020 that it had removed the company's founder, Craig Bouchard, as chairman and CEO. He was later accused of hiding a potential $600 million cost overrun; ordering company emails to be deleted; and wasting money on a “fake groundbreaking” ceremony in 2018 attended by Bevin and other officials.
Unity last year asked the state to give it additional time to complete the project’s financing.
But McDaniel, who chairs the Senate’s appropriations and revenue committee, said company officials made it clear to legislators last fall that “they are completely just a ship lost in the ocean, and all they're trying to do is pay out their salaries until they run out of time.”
“I've run out of patience with these folks,” he said in an interview Friday. “You know, be it Braidy, be it Unity -- they can call themselves what they want -- but the fact is they owe us $15 million, and I want it back.”
He said he hopes the bill will be heard in committee in the coming weeks.
The legislation also prohibits Commonwealth Seed Capital, the public corporation that made the investment in 2017, from giving Unity more time to get private investment in the project. It sets a March 31 deadline.
Asked why he chose that date and the end-of-year deadline for recovering the money, McDaniel said: “Because these people are frauds. And the fact is we don't need to give a bunch of frauds more time to run out of money. And that's what they're going to do.”
A spokeswoman for Unity Aluminum did not immediately respond to an email sent Friday morning.
Unity indicated last year that it hoped to have “permanent” financing in place in the second half of 2021. Through the end of 2019 it had raised about $155 million of its $500 million goal of investor money, according to WDRB News’ analysis of public data.
A unit of Russian aluminum company Rusal has contributed $75 million. It agreed in 2019 to give $200 million to the project but withheld most of that commitment until other investors were lined up.
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