Troubled company changes name, keeps management

Published 1:49 am Friday, May 30, 2008

By Staff
Key players behindpermit unaltered
Staff Writer
According to state documents, the name on a permit to construct and operate an ethanol plant in Aurora was changed earlier this year, though the group controlling it remains the same.
The permit had originally been issued to Agri-Ethanol LLC.
Earlier this week, a former DENR official admitted in federal court that he agreed to take money in 2004 in exchange for promising to speed the permit’s approval.
But the transfer wasn’t from one group to another. Instead, it was Agri-Ethanol changing its name, according to documents obtained from DENR on Thursday.
A summary of the change created by DENR reads, “The Facility’s name was changed to Southeast Ethanol, LLC. This was not a change of ownership.”
Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer, would not confirm or deny whether Southeast Ethanol is the group he said could be close to buying property for an ethanol plant in Aurora.
An option Agri-Ethanol held to buy property from PCS Phosphate expires May 31 and could be involved in the project, Thompson said.
The project would also include some land owned by the Hooker family, Thompson said. Joe Hooker, speaking for the family, declined to comment for this story.
The DENR permit transfer isn’t the only link between Southeast and Agri-Ethanol.
Wilson, the man Fisher wrote about the transfer, shows up again in DENR records. All of the department’s documents related to him and a number of other businessmen were subpoenaed for the government’s investigation into Agri-Ethanol.
The address Wilson listed on DENR documents is that of Wilson and Ratledge, a law firm in Raleigh that he co-founded. Wilson and Ratledge is also the registered agent of both Southeast Ethanol and Agri-Ethanol, according to documents filed with the N.C. Secretary of State.
Another link between Southeast and Agri-Ethanol is Jim Perry. The former Wake Forest mayor was a co-founder of Agri-Ethanol and is still listed with DENR as a contact for Southeast. When reached Thursday, Perry also declined to comment for this story.
Thompson has said that the new plan calls for the use of wood chips and other plant products — rather than corn — as the base of the fuel additive.
He also said another company is interested in a site in Beaufort County north of the Pamlico River.
Ethanol, which is typically blended with gasoline, makes up 99 percent of biofuel in the United States, according to a report in the journal Science. Its use is encouraged by several federal laws, the report states.