Business Alliances

Just by talking to Millennium Energy Ventures, you could become a listed client

Ben Weber of Synfuels said, "I do not consider myself or my company to be a client of theirs at all. They've never done any follow-up. As a matter of fact, we asked for simplistic things like the names of the attendees so that we could send out further data and have never received any response."

And Blake Petty of A&M's Office of Technology Commercialization said, "What that list of company names is, is a list of participants in the event, not official clients...That list of companies was one of our early draft lists of participants, so there's a number of those that ended up not participating in the event, so they have absolutely no connection with [Millennium]." The names have since been removed.

When the Press tried to get explanations from Millennium associates, none of them wanted to talk. About anything.

Dan Leightman, a tax attorney listed as the company's director, said he's not a director, just a shareholder. And as such, he couldn't answer questions about who Millennium's clients are, who manages its funds and why inaccurate information appears on its Web site. He referred all that to Hill. Leightman could not answer this question, either: "What is [Millennium]?"

"I'm not going to be able to answer that while I'm driving my car," Leightman said. (Prior to interviewing Leightman, the Press reached political consultant Don Fitch, who was briefly with Millennium. Although Fitch was operating a motor vehicle during the interview, he attempted to answer questions. Fitch said he was asked to find companies to invest in. He said he never found any companies that were interested.)

So the Press tried Jack Rains. After all, Rains was listed as a speaker for the technology conference in a draft schedule prepared by Hill. And Tuscany Advisors, a merchant banking firm Rains cofounded (but which no longer exists), is still featured as a Millennium ally.

But Rains wouldn't talk.

"He doesn't even like to talk about them," his assistant said. "He doesn't want to even bother with it...He says he's not involved in it, he just really doesn't want to spend the time talking about it."

Okay. What about John O'Dell, formerly listed as a partner and another cofounder of Tuscany Advisors? He's the director of alumni development at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. Surely he'd want to talk.

But all we got were two brief e-mails: "Tuscany Advisors is no longer active. I will communicate that to them...No, I don't want to take any time talking about [Millennium]."

Alrighty. What about former Reliant Chair Don Jordan, now at Jordan Capital? He was listed as a member of Millennium's investment advisory board -- plus, he was also on Hill's scheduled speakers list for the September conference.

But all Jordan could say was, "I was exposed to Millennium very early when they first started to put the business together and I have no knowledge about what they're doing now and have had nothing to do with them...for the last, at least, two years."

Art Jansa, an orthopedic surgeon, is listed as a medical adviser. But he said he was just asked to review one study for Millennium, which he did -- and which he says he was not paid for.

"They put me down as a consultant; I don't think I'm hardly a consultant," Jansa said. " It's been very tangential. I just gave them an opinion on some stuff that I read. And I don't know if it [made] that much difference between a half-a-dozen and six."

Well, it looked like Hill would have to explain himself.

Hill at first suggested the Press meet him at his office near Westheimer and Beltway 8, in order, he said, to prove that he has a real office. There is no doubt that there's a real office at that address, as signified by the photograph on the Web site; it's just that it's more of a proxy office than anything. As part of the Executive Suites package, you get a real-live receptionist to answer the phone. But she can't tell you a darn thing about the company.

Hill ultimately came to the Press office, toting a framed copy of the 2003 Houston Business Journal list of top companies, ranking Millennium number seven.

"I took this off the conference wall," he said. "If I remember the application right, it did ask for financial statements signed by an accountant." (Actually, the Journal relies strictly on the honor system, said researcher Nicole Ferweda. "We take them at their word," she says.)

Hill said his associates didn't want to talk because they feared negative publicity. But he said the technology was a huge success -- four companies received $38 million in funding. (Blake Petty at A&M was on vacation and unable to verify this figure.)

He also said there was "no mystery" about his allies in venture capital. Of G-51's Rudy Garza, he said, "We've never funded anything together, yet, but we still continue to talk. Rudy and I run into each other at various conferences." (A few hours later, Garza re-confirmed that he sent Hill a cease-and-desist order.)

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