CASPER, Wyo. — Prosecutors are seeking at least three years in prison for the developer of a Wyoming power plant that remains unbuilt after two decades on the drawing board, court documents say.

Prosecutors are seeking the term for Michael J. Ruffatto, 71, head of Greenwood Village, Colorado-based North American Power Group after he pleaded guilty last year to falsifying documents related to $5.7 million in unaccounted-for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Ruffatto has paid back $3.7 million, the Casper Star-Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2rT03Tj ).

Ruffatto is scheduled to be sentenced June 19 in federal court in Pittsburgh, near the site of the federal office that handled the grants.

Time in prison would delay Ruffatto’s ability to pay back the remaining $2 million, his attorneys argued in court documents.

Much of the federal money was supposed to be used to study carbon-capture feasibility at the proposed Two Elk power plant in northeast Wyoming. The plant has been proposed since the mid-1990s but only a concrete pad and steel-sided building have gone up at the site east of Wright.

Authorities say the federal money didn’t go to research or development but was funneled into a subsidiary company, North American Land Livestock. Meanwhile, Ruffatto traveled abroad and bought a Mercedes, a home in Colorado, jewelry and clothes from Neiman Marcus, according to court documents.

“Based on his experience as an attorney and sophisticated business executive, the defendant knew the criminal nature of his conduct,” read a sentencing memorandum filed with the court by Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song. “This is why white-collar crime is so serious.”

Ruffatto felt pressure because he had persuaded the government to spend millions of dollars for carbon-capture research at the site where no carbon dioxide was being produced yet, his lawyers said.

“He acknowledges, however, that his own actions have led to this moment and accepts that the court must pass judgment on him,” defense attorney Chad Williams wrote in court documents.

Plans for the Two Elk plant have ranged from burning low-grade coal from nearby mines to timber killed by beetle infestations in Rocky Mountain forests.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com