L.A. Car Charging Firm Being Investigated by FBI Acquired

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Car charging stations in a Chicago drugstore parking lot | Photo: Kevin Zolkiewicz/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A Los Angeles-based company that builds charging stations for electric cars has been sold, making its new owner the largest electric car charging station network in the U.S. In a deal reached last week after months of negotiation, Car Charging Group Inc. bought the L.A.-based startup 350Green for about $5.2 million.

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Car Charging Group, which has already acquired the electric vehicles charging companies Beam Charging and EVPass in 2013, now claims the mantle of largest publicly accessible electric vehicle charging network in the U.S., with thousands of stations across the country.

350Green started out with high hopes in Los Angeles, as the first fledgling company accepted into the L.A. Cleantech Incubator (LACI) program in 2011. LACI also helped negotiate the terms of the company's acquisition by Car Charging Group.

The buyout comes less than a month after the Chicago Tribune reported that the FBI is looking into reports that 350Green had underpaid -- or failed to pay -- vendors in the Chicago area involved with the firm's contract to set up a network of charging stations in the Chicagoland area. According to Tribune reporter Julie Wernau, 350Green was supposed to build hundreds of charging stations in Chicago and its suburbs by 2011, but the project was never finished. 350Green backed out of similar arrangements in 19 other cities when the Chicago project faltered.

Though 350Green presented copies of checks it had cut to contractors and vendors to the city of Chicago for reimbursement from state and federal grant funds, some of those contractors and vendors told the Tribune that they'd never received those checks, or that the amounts paid were less than 350Green owed them. The potential for irregularities in federal grant fund handling is likely what attracted the attention of the FBI, though the law enforcement agency isn't saying.

350Green president Tim Mason told the Tribune's Wernau that the discrepancies were due to clerical errors. "Those people involved there who were doing the invoicing and billing are not with the company anymore," he said.

As Eric Loveday reported Friday on the electric car trade website Inside EVs, 350Green's new owner Car Charging Group Inc. appeared in court in Chicago this week with an agreement between the two firms that Car Charging could take over the mothballed Chicago charger installation project. There was a complication, though: another firm, JNS Holdings, was there with a similar agreement it says it signed with 350Green.

The effect of the acquisition on that conflict remains to be seen. Loveday's assessment in his piece of 350Green's future -- "We'd assume 350Green is basically defunct at this point," he writes -- seems to have been borne out, in a way, with the company's assets folded into those of Car Charging Group Inc., now the industry leader.

Car Charging Group's public statements on the acquisition seem to offer quiet acknowledgement of 350Green's troubles. "After nearly a year of working diligently to acquire 350Green, we are pleased to announce that the acquisition is finally complete," Michael D. Farkas, CEO of CarCharging, said in a press release. "We are confident that this is a step forward in strengthening the EV charging industry, and we will work as quickly as possible to consolidate operations and ensure that all of 350Green's stations are working properly."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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