Bankruptcy court returns little to Bernie's Oil creditors

New London - Nearly 500 customers and business associates of the now defunct Bernie's Fuel Oil Co. Inc. are expected to receive 8 cents for every dollar they are owed while dozens of others will receive no compensation, according to documents filed last month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Anthony S. Novak, trustee in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing for New London-based Bernie's Fuel Oil, approved disbursement of nearly $145,000 in funds, leaving a balance of almost $130,000. Novak is on vacation this week and could not be reached to determine what is planned for the money that won't be disbursed, but nearly $20,000 of it has been earmarked for administration expenses, according to documents.

"It's better than nothing," said 70-year-old Barbara Brown of Preston, who is expected to get about $200 out of the $2,700 she was owed after pre-paying for an oil delivery contract.

Brown, who is in a wheelchair and spent months in a hospital last year, said she was infuriated that Bernie's owner Daniel Groben was collecting money from people like her even as he was preparing to file for bankruptcy.

She said she responded to a promotion in which early payment for oil resulted in favorable prices, plus a free furnace cleaning and a reduced-price maintenance contract. She never got anything, Brown said. "I'm disabled. I really needed that money. I'm very limited on income," she said.

Brown pointed out that only a few parties - Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, more than $19,000; Kenneth R. Hendrix, $1,500; Leonard W. Birdsell, $1,360; Kathy M. Tarryk, $864, and Edward D. Moore, $695 - are slated to get full compensation for their losses. There was no indication on the documents as to why some were to get full payments while most would not.

In all, nearly 800 individuals and businesses filed claims. Most of the priority claims totaling $1.3 million received at least small compensation. But unsecured claims totaling nearly $3.4 million were not going to get any payments, according to the documents.

Objections to the proposed disbursements will be heard July 31 at the bankruptcy court in Hartford.

The proposed settlement indicates that several oil companies would be among those left unpaid. These include New York-based Hess Corp., which has a bulk oil terminal in Groton and claimed to be owed nearly $2 million; Massachusetts-based Global Companies LLC, $92,000; Dennis K. Burke Inc., $118,000; Houston-based Petrocom Energy Group LLC, $530,000, and New London-based Clark Oil, $26,000, which Groben owned.

Other large unpaid creditors included Business Financial Services, $243,000; Stonington Institute, $27,000; the State of Connecticut, $23,000, and Kelly Services, $13,000.

l.howard@theday.com

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