Two Elk

The former site of the Two Elk Energy Park, a northeast Wyoming power plant project that was delayed almost since its inception in 1996, is shown March 26, 2013, near Wright. A group of investors is looking to build a separate coal venture on the site.

File

Michael J. Ruffatto, the mastermind behind the Two Elk energy park fraud, will face sentencing Aug. 25 after gaining approval last week for a third extension in Pittsburgh federal court.

The 71-year-old businessman pleaded guilty in October to defrauding the federal government. He created false invoices to justify millions of dollars for carbon research, engineering work and feasibility studies. The 20-odd years of development of the Two Elk energy complex in Campbell County amounted to little more than a handful of concrete pads on the property, though millions in federal grant dollars and state tax exemptions were dedicated to the ambitious cause: using waste coal and studying carbon dioxide storage.

Funds were transferred to a subsidiary company and used to support Ruffatto’s lifestyle, including expensive jewelry, foreign travel and a home in Colorado, court documents show.

In the continuance filing to Pittsburgh Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti, Ruffatto’s lawyers said they were working with the government to “resolve the civil investigation related to the conduct underlying [Ruffatto’s] guilty plea.”

The continuance was unopposed by U.S Attorney Mary Houghton.

Lawyers on both sides of the case did not respond to requests for comment.

In a sentencing memorandum filed earlier this month, the prosecution proposed prison time, a $75,000 fine and probation for the western lawyer they say was “driven by greed.” Ruffatto’s lawyers have asked for probation, given Ruffatto’s age and the fact that he has repaid much of the federal money. Of the $5.7 million the feds say was inappropriately spent, Ruffatto has paid back $3.7 million.

In other court documents, obtained by Wyofile, which produced an investigative series on Two Elk, Ruffatto’s wife penned an 11-page handwritten letter pleading for leniency.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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