12 February 2019

Tres Hermanos Ranch Solar Farm Project Details Emerge

Today's San Gabriel Valley Tribune has a remarkably detailed article about the efforts of William Barkett to complete a deal to build a solar farm project at Tres Hermanos Ranch, owned by the City of Industry since 1978 and the subject of an agreement signed last week with Chino Hills and Diamond Bar to share ownership and future uses of the 2,500-acre ranch.

Jason Henry's piece goes into the ins and outs of Barkett's attempts to parlay the project into producing enough revenue for his San Gabriel Valley Water and Power so that he could repay debts to in-laws that reportedly have ballooned to about $3,500,000.

The loans, totaling some $2 million were made between 2005 and 2007, but Barkett and his wife, a former trustee at U.S.C., have only repaid about 25% of that debt and interest has driven the principal to the current amount.  In 2017, Barkett wrote checks totaling $75,000 from SGVWP towards that debt.

Lisa Barkett's sister and her husband have filed suit to recoup their losses and court filings claim that the Barketts "have filed multiple fraudule bankruptcies to avoid creditors" and have created "a false appearance of wealth and success" through manipulation "of universities, charities, and even farm workers."  Shell companies and transfers of ownerships were, allegedly, tools to avoid the taking of assets and the consequences of foreclosures.

A portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch looking southeast from Diamond Bar, March 2018.
The Barketts were said to have promised large donations to Fordham University and a church at U.S.C. so that their names as donors would attract creditors, but it was reported that once donor lists were published, payments to those charitable endeavors were halted.

William Barkett then reputedly approached the City of Commerce to convince it to challenge the sale of Tres Hermanos to Industry so that the solar farm project could have a hope of proceeding, but Commerce, once the news came to light, tabled discussion even as the ranch's sale to Industry was approved.

Industry, which paid $20 million to Barkett and SGVWP, has been seeking an audit on those funds, but the company has refused to provide details, citing that it can do what it wants with its money.  In late 2017, issues came to light with the lack of detail for invoices submitted by the company to the city.  The lease between the two entities, however, only required the firm to pay back funds if the project actually started.

Meanwhile, Barkett has amassed overall debts of some $50 million through an array of failed business deals and the article reports that he has evaded personal responsibility by assigning assets to others so that there was essentially nothing for creditors to obtain even when judgments, including a $43.5 million one in 2012, were obtained by court order.  He has been described, moreover, as "extremely litigious" and has threatened legal action against the three cities for last week's agreement and against the Tribune if it published details of his legal conflict with his in-laws.

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