Jury Finds Former Bixby Energy CEO Guilty On All Counts
Robert Walker, the founder and former leader of Ramsey-based alternative-energy company Bixby Energy Systems, Inc.—who may be best known for inventing the Sleep Number Bed—was convicted Wednesday of 17 criminal counts.
A 12-person jury met Monday to deliberate over Walker’s various criminal charges, which include fraud, conspiracy, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
The jury’s verdict—guilty on all counts—was read in federal court Wednesday in St. Paul, reported the Pioneer Press. While Walker was convicted on 17 charges, the St. Paul newspaper said a guilty verdict on just one of the counts carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison—meaning the 71-year-old businessman will likely spend his life under lock and key.
Walker’s crimes were linked to his promotion of a sustainable energy technology, which attracted $57 million from 1,800 investors but never actually made money.
Walker started Select Comfort in 1987 but sold his majority shares in 1991 to start his own alternative energy business, Bixby. Bixby focused on “coal gasification,” which was a process designed to convert coal into clean-burning natural gas.
Prosecutors alleged that, as president and CEO of Bixby, Walker helped raise money by offering company securities based on false or misleading information; for example, he was accused of lying about compensation of company officers and also about the capability of the company’s coal gasification technology.
Seven weeks of testimony ended Monday with more than four hours of closing arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Langner testified against Walker and said that he lied to investors and accused Walker of using company funds for personal gain while also working to keep shareholders from finding out.
Walker’s attorney, Peter Wold, told the jury that although the former Bixby CEO made mistakes, none of them were criminal, the Star Tribune reported.
“He wanted everyone to win,” Wold said in federal court, according to the Minneapolis newspaper. “What he did wasn’t a crime. He made mistakes and he knows that, but he was not a criminal.”
The Pioneer Press reports that Walker testified in his own defense, arguing that he truly believed that the Bixby technology would be successful.