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Troubled home heating oil provider Fred Fuller files for bankruptcy

November 11. 2014 8:46AM
A Bedford resident snapped this photo in January when a Fred Fuller Oil truck made a delivery to his home. (Courtesy)

Fred Fuller, one of the state's largest home heating oil providers, has filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court, though an attorney said in a press release that the company's "service to customers should not be disrupted."

Attorney General Joe Foster said the owner is seeking bankruptcy protection in an effort to sell the company.

“I anticipate they are going to be putting together a quick process for the sale of the company to a strong financial player,” he said.

Foster said representatives from Fuller Oil reached out last week and met with the attorney general’s office on Monday, the same day they filed bankruptcy paperwork.

“We have been watching the situation quite closely,” said Foster, who spent several years as a bankruptcy attorney before being named as the state attorney general.

Fuller Oil is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which is usually used by businesses in financial distress, Foster said. The process gives potential buyers a clear picture of the company’s real assets and liabilities.

The law firm of William S. Gannon in Manchester, a specialist in bankruptcy law, confirmed the meeting with the Attorney General and the Chapter 11 filing in a press release, saying the filing was so "the company can focus on recovering from the damage caused in large part by the telephone system outage that occurred last year."

In January, Fuller Oil came under fire after customers complained they could not reach the company via phone about late or missing deliveries during a lengthy stretch of extremely cold weather. Fuller said it had a "catastrophic telecommunication system failure"  and has filed suit against FairPoint Communications over the issue.

According to the news release, Jeffrey T. Varsalone, a Boston-based representative of CBIZ Corporate Recovery Services, will be the chief restructuring officer.

“Fred Fuller will participate actively in the ongoing operations and support them,” the release states.

“Customer service representatives will be available 24 hours a day like always. Customers should telephone the company with questions regarding fuel and service just as they have done in the past,” the statement reads.

Customers can reach the company by calling 1-800-498-HEAT.

Court paperwork filed on Monday shows Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co., Inc., has between $10 million and $50 million in assets and between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities. An attorney for the company estimates they have between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors.

The state's consumer protection division has had Fuller Oil under scrutiny since the Union Leader broke news of a $4.7 million lawsuit from Sprague Energy, one of Fuller's major suppliers. Sprague is named in the bankruptcy filing as one of the largest holders of unsecured debt.

Fuller Oil has an estimated 30,000 customers. Last year, Fuller had approximately 1,800 pre-buy customers, according to the state consumer protection division.

Foster said a potential buyer would honor any pre-buy or budget accounts.

“Anybody who has pre-paid for their oil will be taken care of by the buyer,” he said. “That's our hope.”

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