By Michael Roberts
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By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Michael Roberts
Toward the end, Routh says, Shires told him that he could afford to lose his investment. "I thought that was kind of callous," he says. "I have been damaged. I haven't seen any remorse."
Orr acknowledges that he's left some angry investors in his wake, many of them brought into the deal by Shires. "A lot of these guys had money in this for more than a decade," he says. "They had every reason to be pissed at me." But he insists that investors such as Routh could still reap a windfall if his fuel ever makes it through the maze of the EPA's fuel waiver requirements.
Orr may have been overly optimistic — and flat wrong — in his reports to investors about major corporate interest in his patent. But documents show that he did have meetings with Exxon, Enron, Prudential and other potential funding sources. His defenders insist that Orr's sin is naiveté rather than fraud. "A researcher should be completely unbiased, but Bill is also a salesman," says Frank Cox. "I don't think he was lying to people. He believes what he tells them. He's very dogmatic about it. And that's what the government used to get him."
"Bill wore too many hats," adds Chuck Thomas, a retired Denver schoolteacher and Octane investor. Thomas had his own problems with Orr's management style but defended him in court, even though he was summoned as a prosecution witness. "He was trying to keep everything alive, and I think it was overwhelming for the guy."
Shires calls his former boss a "North Korean negotiator" — meaning that negotiations with him could stretch on seemingly forever. "There were always people interested," Shires says of the meetings Orr had with major corporations about his fuel. "But the minute Bill got someone close to striking a deal, he upped the ante and asked for more."
At trial, an Exxon executive testified that his company was never all that interested in Orr's patent. Yet the name of the same executive, who met with Orr at Exxon's corporate research laboratory in 1997, is listed on a patent filed in 1999 by Exxon dealing with a fuel process that shares several characteristics with Orr's "vapor phase combustion" technology. To Orr, the implication was clear: The Big Oil boys were so not interested in what he had to offer that they signed a non-disclosure agreement with him, then developed a similar patent.
For some people, the Orr case was about how money was spent, what was promised to investors, and dubious tax practices. For Donald Stedman, though, the case represents something much more important: a lost opportunity to find out if a simple modification in the fuel supply could have wide-ranging environmental as well as economic benefits.
Stedman has impeccable credentials as an emissions expert, going back to his early career as a research scientist for Ford. The DU professor is the father of remote sensing for on-the-road emissions monitoring, as opposed to the costly stationary monitoring program Colorado was plagued with for years — an innovation the EPA strenuously resisted. He has no financial stake in Orr's product, and while he doesn't know if it's the answer, he says it raises interesting questions.
"He has preliminary data that are encouraging, but not extensive enough for me to jump on the bandwagon," Stedman explains. "He's done very few engines under very limited conditions. If you want to show that your additive can solve all these problems, then you have to do a series of expensive tests, which is exactly what he had proposed to do at Southwest. The fuel might have been a failure, but the tests should have been done. That's how you should find out — not in court."
The question of whether Orr's fuel worked was never settled (and scarcely addressed) in court. The critical issue behind multiple fraud charges was whether Orr had misrepresented to the EPA and others the results of testing of MMT fuel blends in his lab and elsewhere. Prosecutors called no expert witnesses. Instead, they brought in former employees of Orr's Golden lab, who said they were unimpressed with their test results, and a witness who testified that Orr had misrepresented the results of tests conducted years ago by NIPER, the National Institute for Petroleum and Energy Research.
Defense attorney Grant responded with the testimony of Stedman, Cox, Higgins and other experts, who insisted that Orr had correctly interpreted the NIPER data and that even the troubled Golden tests showed some slight benefits. Given that the EPA's own research shows undeniable octane improvement and nitrogen oxide reductions with MMT, Grant was bewildered by the verdict.
"The whole process was improper," he says. "The jury convicted him of misrepresenting the science, but there were no qualified experts who expressed any negative opinions about that. They must have believed the prosecution witnesses, even though they weren't experts and I wasn't allowed to cross-examine them as experts."
Grant says he was hamstrung by several of Judge Babcock's rulings in the case. He wasn't allowed to question the executive from Exxon about the similar patent developed after his confidential meeting with Orr. He wasn't allowed to introduce the Melvin Ingalls report on the dubious methodology behind the Tier 2 program. He wasn't allowed to go into details about the way the investigation was conducted, the way witnesses were "poisoned" against Orr.