Former Utah inventor and businessman Joseph LaStella and his company, B.A.T. International Inc., are under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the firm's business dealings and private sales of its stock.
B.A.T. International operated for years out of facilities in West Valley City, where it worked to develop a variety of battery-powered and other high-mileage vehicles. LaStella moved the company to Burbank, Calif. in 1994.B.A.T. became well-known locally in 1992 when most of the Utah news media did feature stories on the company after LaStella drove a battery powered Geo Metro from Salt Lake City to Wendover on a single charge, said at the time to be a world record.
B.A.T. is an acronym for Battery Automated Transportation.
Last week, the SEC issued a 46-item subpoena in the wake of heavy trading of B.A.T.'s stock that has recently bounced up and down in price from 7 cents to $3.25 per share. The shares closed Tuesday at 54 cents.
Neither B.A.T. nor LaStella is accused of wrongdoing in the SEC subpoena.
According to USA Today, LaStel-la had been boasting in computer chat rooms about his feat last week at a California race track, where he said he had driven a modified Geo Metro nearly 100 miles on a gallon of diesel fuel. That apparently motivated hundreds of small investors to bid up the company's stock.
The Los Angeles Daily News said Wednesday that LaStella denies supplying false or misleading information about B.A.T. on the Internet but added that he would cease the informal online chats.
B.A.T. issued a release this week saying there have been "impostors" on line, claiming to be LaStella, who have been providing "misleading and/or false" information about the company.
USA Today said LaStella blames "professional traders" for manipulating the company's stock for their own profit.
In an interview with the Deseret News on Friday, LaStella said the articles in USA Today were "upside down and backwards" and were written "only to sell papers."
LaStella said the negative press he has gotten "is about a stupid subpoena that asks for documents. . . . Everyone is talking about what we're doing but no one is talking about the technology. . . . Someone is paying someone to bad-mouth me and disregard the technology completely."
Since leaving Utah, LaStella said he has expanded into seven separate companies. He said the SEC invetigation won't hurt his company because his future lies overseas, not in the United States.
"I will build my engine in Europe and Asia," he vowed.
LaStella was at first reluctant to give the SEC technical documentation on his super-mileage claims, featuring his unpatented "pulse charge" engine technology, saying he was afraid it would fall into the hands of competitors.
Despite his earlier vow to go to jail rather than give up the information, he has decided to honor the subpoena.
According to USA Today, B.A.T. has survived with almost no revenue by selling large blocks of unregistered stock to individual investors. Its market value peaked Feb. 5 at $224.3 million when 23.4 million shares changed hands in bulletin-board trading.
LaStella told reporters in California that during the next few weeks he will release certified financial statements for 1997, begin quarterly financial filings and apply for a patent on his engine technology.