A former Imperium Renewables employee is suing the company, alleging he is owed millions in bonus money for profits he made buying and selling...

Share story

A former Imperium Renewables employee is suing the company, alleging he is owed millions in bonus money for profits he made buying and selling raw materials used by the biofuels maker.

Kenneth Orr was laid off in January after a year as managing director of trading and commodities at the Seattle company. He was responsible for securing the vegetable oil used to create biodiesel and made profits by trading in commodities contracts.

An amended lawsuit filed Thursday in King County Superior Court alleges the biodiesel maker didn’t pay him an agreed-upon 10 percent bonus on $58 million he earned for the company.

The lawsuit also claims the company stopped Orr’s trading last October and improperly transferred the trades on which his compensation was based to Imperium subsidiaries to avoid paying him.

Orr is seeking double damages, plus interest and attorney’s fees, an amount that could exceed $12 million. Orr’s attorney, Michael Subit, said the plaintiffs would hire an economic adviser to calculate the damages.

Imperium declined to comment on the litigation. But in court filings, the company’s attorneys said there was a legitimate dispute regarding the amount of Orr’s bonus, and therefore the failure to pay him “was not willful.”

The defendants also called the allegation that assets were improperly transferred “vague and imprecise.”

The dispute, which began in February, comes at a tough time for Imperium, which operates one of the largest U.S. biodiesel facilities in Grays Harbor. Soaring costs for raw materials are squeezing biodiesel companies’ profits, and investors are shying away from the field.

Former Chief Executive Martin Tobias stepped down in December; shortly afterward the company pulled its $345 million initial public offering and laid off part of its work force.

Imperium’s former chief financial officer, Marc Stolzman — who will become diamond retailer Blue Nile’s CFO next month — said in a declaration Imperium filed in the case that the company “experienced financial difficulties,” particularly in the latter part of 2007.

Orr was told to stop trading because “Imperium needed to free up some cash,” Stolzman said.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com