Two Elk

The site of the now-defunct Two Elk project is pictured in March 2013, near Wright. The plant was proposed in 1996. Its developer, Michael Ruffatto, admitted to fraud and is awaiting sentencing.

File, Star-Tribune

Michael J. Ruffatto’s fate in court was delayed again this week, the seventh time a district judge has continued the failed Two Elk developer’s sentencing hearing.

Ruffatto pleaded guilty in 2016 to defrauding the federal government out of millions meant for feasibility studies and engineering work to build a grand carbon research facility in Campbell County.

The idea of Two Elk lingered for nearly two decades, despite little work taking place on the property, before Ruffatto came up on charges of sending fake invoices to the federal government in 2016.

Instead of spending federal grant money on carbon research, the 72-year-old lawyer funded a lavish lifestyle of foreign travel, expensive clothes and a home in Colorado, court dockets showed.

Prosecutors requested jail time and supervised probation last year, but Ruffatto’s lawyers pleaded advanced age and a will to pay back the federal government for the money owed.

By mid-2017, Ruffatto had paid back $3.7 million and owed another $2 million.

The U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh allowed for the seventh continuance on the sentencing hearing last week. The hearing is now set for April 18.

In the meantime, the ghostly Two Elk property may be home to a new coal facility in northern Wyoming, where a group of investors are planning to develop a coal drying plant that proponents say would enhance Wyoming coal, and increase its value.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

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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