In a tumultuous turn of events, embattled Manheim energy firm Worley & Obetz abruptly closed its doors Monday.
“As of this morning, we had high hopes that the lenders would go along with our plan to keep operating the residential heating oil, propane and HVAC business,” Seth Obetz said Monday afternoon. “However, this afternoon they notified us that they were closing the doors. So today is the last day of Worley & Obetz after 72 years.”
He said he and his father, Bob Obetz, had owned the Manheim company together and both resigned Monday as part of the closure process.
Last week Worley & Obetz announced layoffs of more than 100 employees and closure of its commercial operations, saying in a written statement that the actions were “due to potentially fraudulent activity” and that the layoffs followed the mid-May “disappearance of our CEO, Jeff Lyons.”
That statement also said Seth Obetz had “immediately liquidated his life savings to keep the company going,” and that the company provides “unemployment opportunity, COBRA coverage and job reference letters as requested.”
They were optimistic that the company would survive. In a Facebook statement Saturday, the company said it had “a solid plan to keep the core of the company going” and that it strongly believed residential customers “will experience limited to no interruption” in service.
But that optimism was extinguished when the bankers rejected the company’s restructuring proposal.
About 150 Worley & Obetz employees remained and all lost their jobs Monday, Seth Obetz said. Amerigreen Energy Inc., a separate company in which he has an ownership stake and which has about 25 employees, also closed Monday, he said, as did Molly’s Convenience Store.
Obetz later confirmed that a related business named Value Energy also closed.
“It’s horrible beyond belief,” he said. “We have such a great team who didn’t do anything wrong other than work hard and take great care of customers. We have great customers who don’t deserve this.”
He broke the news to employees Monday in person when possible, he said, or over the phone, and “will do anything I can to help them find work.”
Obetz also said he hopes to eventually start again with a similar company.
Help for those impacted by closure
Erin Hammons, director of human resources at York-based Shipley Energy, said Monday afternoon that it is working closely with the Worley & Obetz team “to ensure that the Worley & Obetz commercial customers are cared for.”
The two businesses “are very similar,” she said, “so this hits home for us.”
“The local energy industry is a small community, and we want to do everything we can to help when others need it,” a post on Shipley’s Facebook page said Monday afternoon. “If you or someone you know has been impacted by a layoff from Worley & Obetz, Inc, we want to help. We have multiple open positions available from Customer Service to CDL drivers and everything in between.”
Before news of the closure broke, a community movement to support Worley & Obetz had resulted in a Facebook event titled “Shop at Molly’s Day!” and hashtagged #ilovemanheim.
As of Monday afternoon, close to 200 people had indicated plans to visit Molly’s on Saturday and buy gas or food or both, and another 300-some people marked themselves interested in the event.
Obetz said he had heard about those plans.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “The support from customers, employees, competitors and friends has been unbelievable.”
Fulton Bank statement
Obetz indicated Lancaster-based Fulton Bank was the company’s main lender.
When asked why Fulton Bank rejected the Worley & Obetz restructuring plan, spokeswoman Laura Wakeley declined to comment.
“Fulton is saddened by the events that its long-time customer has experienced, and by the fact that those events caused that business to be unable to continue to operate,” she said in a written statement.
Fulton disclosed late last week that it could lose up to $32 million on a $48 million loan to a “commercial customer” due to a fraud committed by one or more employees of the customer.
Fulton did not identify the customer at that time, but the statement Monday said since then, “the commercial customer has been independently identified as Worley & Obetz,” and noted that Worley & Obetz “has acknowledged both the sudden disappearance of its CEO and also that potentially fraudulent activity has taken place at that company.”
Lyons’ family had reported him missing and potentially endangered on May 15. Police located him on May 17 but said that because he was determined not to be endangered, the case was closed and they’re limited in the information they can share.
No charges have been announced to date, and federal and local law enforcement agencies have said policy prevents them from confirming whether an investigation is underway.
However, Obetz said Monday what the company’s earlier statement had implied: That law enforcement agencies are investigating and that the investigation is focused on at least one person — Lyons.
Obetz said Lyons had been with the company for more than 20 years, and was not a relative of his. Retirement plans for Lyons were “years down the road,” Obetz said, and they were making plans to bring in someone to learn the role under Lyons prior to the recent events.
Obetz said he doesn’t know Lyons’ whereabouts, but that he has not returned to the company and has been terminated “with cause.”
“If I could tell him something, if he reads this, I would tell him that although it might be too late now, that he should come back and do the right thing and help fix this,” he said.
Staff writer Tim Mekeel contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. July 3, 2018, to add the information on Value Energy.