The Vigo County School Corp. wants back some of the millions of dollars it has spent with Energy Systems Group.

To that end, the School Board tonight approved a resolution authorizing its attorneys to "seek resolution through negotiations with Energy Systems Group LLC and, if necessary, pursue legal action against Energy Systems Group LLC to recover damages caused by the defendants."

The board voted six in favor, with Mel Burks abstaining. The agenda had to be amended to add the item.

Indianapolis-based ESG is a former school district vendor that has done tens of millions of dollars worth of energy savings projects and related projects for the school corporation.

After the board meeting, Superintendent Rob Haworth said in an interview the amount the district hopes to recover could reach into the millions.

The board action authorizes district attorneys to pursue legal action, or through negotiation, to recoup "dollars we believe we've lost to ESG through a series of energy savings contracts over a long period of time. It's authorizing our attorneys to negotiate, or if the need arises, to file a lawsuit on behalf of the school corporation," Haworth said.

Explaining further, he said, "When you think about what the cost of our projects were, and when you look at what dollar amount ESG admits to making on those projects, we struggle with what the industry standard is and what we paid for the cost of those projects."

Negotiations, or a lawsuit, "would be over the industry standard and the amount we were charged," he said.

The district, with assistance of counsel, has analyzed claims against ESG.

When asked how much ESG may owe the district, Haworth said it would be up to attorneys to work that out. "We think there is an industry standard out there for energy savings for any kind of contracted work, whether that be with an architect or any service provider, and the dollar amount we paid exceeded that standard."

When asked if the amount to be recovered could be in the millions, Haworth responded, "I think it could be very much so in the millions."

Asked about a deadline to settle or file a lawsuit, he said, "I don't think we've set a deadline, but I do know we're engaged in conversation with ESG. I feel like we can resolve this fairly quickly."

Dating back to 2000, court documents say, ESG did $42 million worth of business with the Vigo County School Corp. and made a profit of $11 million. During that time, ESG donated or expensed $100,000 or more to former Vigo schools superintendent Danny Tanoos or to VCSC, according to those court records.

Tanoos faces felony bribery charges, filed in September 2018, alleging he solicited and accepted items of value, including concert tickets and dinners from ESG in exchange for recommendations that ESG be contracted to do work for the school system.

The criminal case against Tanoos in Marion County is on hold in the trial court while a mid-case appeal is before the Indiana Court of Appeals; the mid-case appeal was filed earlier this year by Tanoos' attorneys.

Tanoos' attorneys want the charges dismissed. They say the charges are faulty in that they rely on a generalized theory of bribery and do not actually establish a criminal offense under Indiana law.

The state, however, says its filings set forth sufficient facts to meet its burden to proceed with prosecution.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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