On June 15, 2010, Mountain Plaza, Inc. received a $424,000 stimulus grant for a truck stop electrification terminal off of Interstate 40 in East Tennessee. The innovative terminal was supposed to reduce diesel emissions and improve air quality. Just one problem: 12 days earlier, the company had filed for bankruptcy.
The Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the Tennessee Department of Transportation [TDOT] approved the stimulus grant to Mountain Plaza Inc., the truck stop’s owner, despite many red flags. The company, whose creditors included the state and federal governments, filed for bankruptcy protection in the middle of the process. A review of public records shows evidence of the company and its owner’s past and present financial troubles was readily available.
Tennessee received $2 million of stimulus funding through the EPA, which funded multiple truck-stop electrification projects. The shiny new terminal on Interstate 40 operated for a few months, until the mortgage company that now owns it shuttered it after failing to find a buyer. The terminal could reopen if a new buyer emerges, which doesn't sound likely:
The chance of that happening anytime soon appears slim, judging by the lack of interest at Thursday’s auction and the fact that [former truck stop owner Ricky Hugo] Lewis already has seen one prospective buyer back out. Lewis said it was the prospective buyer who encouraged him to apply for the stimulus grant and prepared the application to TDOT.
Mountain Plaza's owner owed money to the IRS, the state of Tennessee, and the local county trustee, in addition to being in the process of fighting a conviction for writing worthless checks. In 2002, Lewis had been convicted on 31 counts for filing false tax returns in the 1990s. Despite Lewis' suspect record and his company's bankruptcy, Mountain Plaza received almost half-a-million taxpayer dollars. And all we got was a busted truck stop.
Peter Suderman recently documented other related hurdles when stimulus book theory becomes stimulus real-world action.