BUFFALO LAKE — The protracted cleanup of the defunct Buffalo Lake Biofuels site in Buffalo Lake that was the source of frustration for the Renville County Board of Commissioners is now part of a criminal case against its former owner.

Renville County Attorney David Torgelson has filed two felony theft charges against former property owner Leo Fischer, 52, of Lakewood, New Jersey.

In a criminal complaint, the county alleges that the defendant instructed a person performing site cleanup to remove and sell four electrical transformers at the site. The transformers belonged to the McLeod County Power Cooperative, which reported them missing Nov. 6, 2019.

The four transformers had a value of $46,000, but were sold for $15,000 to B and B Transformers of Farmington, Minnesota, according to the complaint.

The company reported that it paid the funds to Boss Contracting, which proved to be owned by John Rocky Jones. He told an investigator with the Buffalo Lake Police Department that he was instructed by Fischer to remove and sell the transformers, and that he turned over the proceeds to Fischer.

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In a phone interview with the investigator, Fischer denied instructing anyone to remove the transformers or receiving proceeds from their sale.

The criminal complaint indicated that it is not clear who kept the proceeds of the sale. It states: “At the very least it appears that, despite the defendant’s denials, there is evidence that the defendant directed the removal and sale of the transformers in question here, knowing they were not his to sell even if it was the case that a John Jones ended up keeping the money from the sale (though John Jones claims he turned over that money to Defendant Leo Fischer).”

The facility was among one of the first ethanol plants to open in Minnesota when it began production in 1997 by Minnesota Energy with a capacity of 18 million gallons per year. It had a history of fines and mechanical issues and changed ownership a number of times. At one point, it was the focus of a complicated bankruptcy proceeding.

Fischer is scheduled to make his first appearance on the charges July 13 in District Court in Olivia.