Does Mitt Romney Have an In-Law Problem?

"It's kind of like, how can you go wrong when someone like that is watching over their nephew?" Davies said.

The Needles project was intended to be one of REDCO's biggest payoffs. The idea was to fill dozens of acres of Mojave Desert land with giant towers, each topped with an array of molded plastic panes that were intended to act as a sort of solar collection panel. The technology was the brainchild of a self-trained Utah inventor named Neldon Johnson, who once described his creations as divinely inspired. Davies can be seen on video recordings of Needles City Council meetings touting the technology as cutting edge, and promising the city will be out in front.

"We will have some pretty big cranes out here for awhile," Davies told the council, promising during one council meeting that construction on the towers would be starting soon.

In 2009, the city signed a power purchase agreement with REDCO. But the towers never arrived, and the deal ultimately fell apart.

What went wrong remains unclear. Johnson, the inventor behind the technology, told ABC News he still believes it would have worked. He blames Davies for failing to lure enough investment to see the project through to completion. He said he had always hoped that Davies' ties to Romney would one day put his invention on the map.

"When you have a good name in the family, we felt like it would be a good connection for us," Johnson said. "If it developed into a positive relationship with Ryan, it could bleed over into other relationships with the Romneys, you know?"

Davies told ABC News the problem was with the technology's high cost. As the price of the solar towers rose, he said, the financials showed the project would be "under water before it ever started."

Needles officials told ABC News that they walked away from the experience with serious doubts about both the technology and Davies. And at a time when the city was already severely strapped financially, officials there said the city had to eat roughly $100,000 in costs associated with the failed REDCO deal, mostly legal expenses.

Earlier this year, REDCO filed for bankruptcy. In June, a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee filed a court action demanding that Davies return $179,000 he allegedly borrowed from the company. The money took the form of what the bankruptcy trustee called "cash disbursements lacking support" from company accounts. Former company attorney Sean McBride said Davies "had improperly taken the money." On Dec. 16, 2011, after company board members discovered the spending, McBride said Davies was required to sign a promissory note pledging to repay the money.

Utah-based freelance researcher Lynn Packer contributed reporting to this story.

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