BRUNSWICK, Maine — Conrad Thibeault, founder of the now-defunct Thibeault Energy, and his wife, Vivian, on Tuesday filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland.
Months after the longtime Brunswick business closed its doors in January, leaving prepaid fuel customers without heating oil and propane during the lowest temperatures of the season, those customers have begun to lose hope that they will ever recoup any of that lost money.
Sure to add to their frustration is a recent decision by Maine Attorney General William Schneider not to pursue any criminal charges against the Thibeaults, despite hundreds of complaints lodged with the Attorney General’s Office alleging that the firm continued to accept payments for fuel it knew it couldn’t deliver.
The Thibeaults, “formerly doing business as Thibeault’s Oil Service Inc.,” are represented by attorney Neal Shankman of Shankman & Associates in Lewiston, according to initial Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings obtained from the federal bankruptcy court.
In Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases, the company or individual filing is considered past the stage of reorganization and often is forced to liquidate all property and assets to pay off creditors.
The Thibeaults estimate they owe between $1 million and $10 million to between 50 and 99 creditors, and estimate their assets at $100,000 to $500,000.
A list of 100 creditors owed money by the Thibeaults includes a number of local businesses. Among them are Brunswick Ford, Brunswick Home and Garden, Brunswick Electrical Supply, CN Brown, Downeast Energy, Morin’s Auto Parts, People Plus and Sherwin Williams. The Times Record also is listed as a creditor.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said Tuesday evening that local legislators met last week with Schneider and learned that Schneider’s office will not pursue criminal charges against the Thibeaults.
Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed Gerzofsky’s statement Wednesday morning, although she declined to release additional information at this time.
“Their conclusion was that there certainly were improper things done, but that [those things] were not illegal,” said Gerzofsky, who did not attend the meeting but spoke separately with Schneider. “They didn’t act in a totally proper manner, but they didn’t commit any crimes, according to the attorney general … They did go out of business, and they shouldn’t have been taking money when that was going on.”
“[Savings Bank of Maine] has taken all the money, so in this case I don’t think there’s going to be any money” to return to former customers, Gerzofsky said.
“If it was a regular person, he’d be in jail,” Doug Hiserod of Orr’s Island said. Hiserod said he’s out about $2,000 after Thibeault failed to deliver some 600 gallons of prepaid oil last winter.
Of an April auction of Thibeault vehicles, Hiserod said, “Somebody’s getting their money. It doesn’t give you any avenues to fight. It would be better to have a class action suit.”
“It seems that what happened is cloaked in secrecy,” Dana Baggett, a longtime Thibeault customer, said today. “Businesses go under — even well-established ones, [but] those who are owed money were at least entitled to some explanation other than ‘circumstances beyond our control.’”
Baggett said he doesn’t think the Thibeaults committed a crime, but he doesn’t understand “the long delay in filing for bankruptcy.”
“For many businesses, their customers are their best asset, and I think that was true with Thibeault, but when push came to shove, the customers got the short end of it,” he said.