Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the majority of LED lights have been delivered to Lake County, and the recoup amount is $80,000, plus any amount above and beyond to cover escalating light fixture costs.
CROWN POINT — The Lake County Board of Commissioners is trying to recoup some of the $415,000 they paid to a company two years ago to purchase LED lights that were never delivered.
The owner of LTN Solutions, Ryan Rettig, of Crown Point, breached his contract with the county and failed to pay his supplier and California lender, court records allege.
At least 570 light fixtures are sitting in LTN and Rettig’s supplier’s warehouse waiting for shipment to America, the county has claimed.
The county's crossclaim — which targets both LTN and sole owner Rettig — alleges LTN is not properly funded. The county also claims Rettig accepted the $415,000 payment, stopped efforts to fulfill his contract, and failed to reimburse his supplier.
County attorney Matt Fech clarified Monday that about $80,000 worth of lights were never delivered, and the county is seeking that from Rettig, along with any amount above and beyond that to cover escalating product costs.
"That's what's in dispute," Fech said.
He said the county can also recoup an additional $42,000, the amount of the bid bond submitted by LTN, if LTN doesn't follow through or perform as the contract outlines.
Attorneys representing the Board of Commissioners said they were attempting to work through issues with Rettig, but then the board and others were hit with a lawsuit by Rettig's lender in December 2019 for Rettig’s alleged loan default.
The suit, filed Dec. 30, 2019, was initiated by Jaideep Sohi, of California, who loaned $100,000 to LTN Solutions that summer for the LED purchase. More than 700 custom jail lights were listed as collateral for the loan, court records show.
The lawsuit also names Cyril and Brenda Huerter as defendants. Acting as loan guarantors, they allegedly put up their Highland home to secure the loan, records state.
Court records show the Huerters filed bankruptcy in May, further complicating the lawsuit and Sohi’s attempts for repayment.
Once the county learned of the lawsuit, attorney John Dull said they realized the need to file a crossclaim and recoup the money from Rettig, rather than waiting on Rettig to deliver.
A crossclaim was filed earlier this summer and the case is pending.
John Terpstra, a Highland attorney representing Rettig, declined all comment on the lawsuit other than to deny the allegations on his client’s behalf.
Paid in advance
Fech and fellow county attorney John Dull could not immediately confirm who authorized the $415,000 payment to LTN Solutions before the county received all the LED lights. They told The Times they were investigating the matter.
The county’s crossclaim states the commissioners held back $20,900 of the $435,900 contract to ensure the project’s completion, but that Rettig has failed to provide the rest of the lights and pay his supplier.
Caleb Johnson, an attorney representing the county in the suit, said the commissioners first requested LTN correct the issues on July 22, 2019, after receiving only a portion of the lights promised. A follow-up letter was sent on Sept. 14, 2019, directly to Rettig.
On Sept. 17, 2019, attorney Jonathan Petersen called and emailed advising that he was representing LTN Solutions seeking to work together to resolve any outstanding issues, Johnson said.
In the meantime, on Dec. 11, local attorney Michael Kvachkoff made Lake County aware of his client Sohi’s secured interest in the remaining LED lights for a $100,000 secured loan, Johnson said.
Superintendent vouched for Rettig
County records show Commissioners Mike Repay, Kyle Allen and Jerry Tippy unanimously voted to award the $435,900 purchasing contract to LTN Solutions, Inc. in February 2018.
A second company, Production Distribution Co., had a slightly lower bid, but the county went with LTN because it was local, Dull said.
Indiana secretary of state records show Rettig filed paperwork to form LTN Solutions, Inc. just eight months before bidding on the project.
Asked how the county vetted the newly created LLC’s ability to finance the LED purchase, Dull said the county’s building superintendent, who has since resigned, vouched for Rettig’s work on another county project in 2015.
“I went to the (superintendent) and I said ‘Did he do a good job?’ All I got back was ‘He’s great’ and that he knew he could do the job,” Dull said.
Dull and Fech said the superintendent, Robert Rehder, was asked to resign more than a year ago. The resignation was not specifically tied to any one project, however, there were questions about Rehder’s ability to handle project costs, they said.
Rehder could not immediately be reached for comment through a cellphone number listed for him online.
Bad practices 'of the past'
Tippy said he questioned the legality of awarding the LED light contract to Rettig when his other company, Sigma Energy, wrote the bid specifications for the same project.
“I asked attorney Dull to determine the legality of the award. He said that it is (legal),” Tippy said.
Rehder pushed the county to award the contract to LTN, Tippy said.
Tippy said the project is an example of why he and others were working to bring the county’s purchasing procedures into compliance — actions that resulted in the Association of Indiana Counties awarding Lake County this year its prestigious 2020 County Achievement Award.
The award was for developing and implementing a new purchase manual.
“This project was awarded in 2018 while creation of the manual was in its early stages. In other words, it was not possible to completely shut off the bad practices of the past, but we have made significant process over the last two years,” Tippy said.
The new 225-page manual, available online at lakecountyin.org, was adopted by the three-member Board of County Commissioners to get the best value for taxpayer dollars while complying with myriad state laws and regulations pertaining to government purchases.
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