A promising Charlottesville solar company that was once earning millions of dollars a year has since developed a reputation for shoddy work, ghosting customers and owing money to contractors.
One Sigora employee who left the company last year posed this question to The Daily Progress: “Where did that money go?”
The founder of the company, Andy Bindea, appears to believe much of it was embezzled or stolen.
A lawsuit filed in May claims that Bindea told employees, people in the solar industry and even U.S. Sen. Mark Warner that three former Sigora executives stole $150,000 — a month — from the company.
Among those Bindea accused is his former CEO Logan Landry.
“It’s bullshit,” Landry told The Daily Progress of the accusation. “There’s just nothing to it.”
The accusations have become public now that Heather Burns, Sigora’s former chief talent officer, has sued Bindea and Sigora for defamation.
In the filed complaint, Burns’ counsel describes Bindea’s allegations as malicious, writing that they were made “with knowledge of their falsity or made so recklessly as to amount to a willful disregard for the truth.”
Burns, Landry and Tad Luttrell, the company’s chief sales and marketing officer, were terminated from the company last November.
Shortly after, Bindea began telling employees that the trio had stolen or embezzled money from Sigora, the complaint says.
But the smoking gun appears to be a WhatsApp text message drafted by Bindea.
According to the lawsuit, the message said:
“My company Sigora Home (solar) that does solar batteries spray insulation &micro-grids is going through a very heavy time — should say has gone through a very tough time (the ceo and csmo and cto was stealing money @ $150k a month)
“Fired all and rebuilding now.”
The complaint claims that Bindea sent the message to a subordinate and then directed her to send the message to a member of Warner’s congressional staff.
It is unclear if Warner or his staff received the message. Warner’s press secretary, Valeria Rivadeneira, did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress.
“The statements that Ms. Burns embezzled or stole any amount of money, let alone $150,000.00 per month, are false,” the complaint reads. “Bindea could have verified that his statements were false by consulting with Sigora’s records or personnel in charge of banking, accounting, or payroll.”
Landry and Luttrell have also denied the accusation.
Landry said he met with Craig Curwood, the attorney representing Burns.
“I told him my whole story and opted not to file suit with him mostly because I knew [Sigora] would not have funding for it to go anywhere and I’d be throwing away money for principle, which I don’t like to do,” Landry said.
He added that at that point in time he still wanted the company to be successful because he knew so many of its employees.
Bindea, Landry said, “was made very aware that if [the allegations] ever started again I probably would have pursued something.”
Luttrell told The Daily Progress that while he had heard of the allegations, he’d never heard them directly from Bindea or the company. Landry said the same.
“The allegations are ridiculous. Completely untrue. And I have no issue with stating that’s exactly why they’ve never been pursued by the company,” Luttrell said. “I can assure you that if a company in great financial distress had evidence of executives stealing millions of dollars, they would be pursuing those people.”
Landry said he believes Bindea made the accusations in an effort to salvage his and his company’s reputations.
“Every story needs to have a villain, and we were the villains,” Landry said.
Bindea declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Recently hired Sigora CEO Mike Ball said he was aware of the lawsuit but did not want to comment on ongoing litigation.
He added, however, that the company has engaged a forensic account to do a third party review of its finances.
“As we’re working toward turning things around and refocusing on Sigora and repairing Sigora, we did uncover some questionable transactions,” Ball said. “I’m not accusing anyone of anything. But we found some items we thought it might be worth looking into.”
“What I’m focused on are just the facts and I can’t sit here today and tell you I have the facts. I’d rather not comment much further than that,” Ball said.
Burns’ lawsuit may shed light on whether the company’s financial woes are due to simple mismanagement or something more serious.
So far, the case only includes the original complaint and two responses, one on behalf of Sigora and one on behalf of Bindea.
Both deny and demand proof of the plaintiff’s allegations.
The court is waiting on a request from either the plaintiff or defendants on what they want to happen next.
Sigora customers, contractors and former employees alike will be interested in the case, as well as the third-party forensic review Ball mentioned.
One former employee, who declined to give their name due to fear of legal retribution, said that many colleagues felt they were seriously underpaid by the company. That was especially true during monthly meetings, when management would show employees Sigora’s big profits.
Those employees started asking why the company was making so much money yet they couldn’t get a pay raise.
“Leadership’s response was, ‘We’re not going to tell them dollar amounts anymore, we’re just going to tell them percentages,’” the employee recalled.
Certain people in the company appeared to be making a very nice living.
“The rest of us are sitting here trying to figure out how to pay rent and put food on the table for ourselves and our kids,” the former employee said.