The owner of a troubled solar-installation company acknowledged Wednesday that his St. Paul business failed to complete work on more than 80 solar projects in Minnesota after receiving $1.5 million in down-payment money from customers who have waited as long as two years for work to begin.
At a state license revocation hearing, Able Energy Co. owner Michael J. Harvey was pressed for details on what happened to the money after admitting the company has just $14,000 in cash left in its bank accounts.
“There is no way we can provide an accounting for each project,” Harvey said.
“I don’t see why not,” said state administrative law judge Barbara Case, who presided over the three-day hearing.
State regulators moved to revoke Able Energy’s license in March after hearing from dozens of customers, who accused Harvey and his employees of stringing them along for months with misleading information and false promises.
In a lawsuit filed two months ago by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, Harvey was accused of defrauding customers by making “numerous misrepresentations” about its capacity and willingness to install solar panels on homes throughout the state.
The department is seeking restitution on behalf of the company’s customers, as well as an order barring Harvey from doing solar work for any other companies.
At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Chris Kaisershot warned Harvey that his testimony could become part of an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s fraud bureau, which could seek criminal charges against him.
Harvey said he wants customers to know he is trying to catch up on a staggering backlog of unfinished work even though his license lapsed months ago.
“We’re chipping away,” said Harvey, adding that he has been finishing three to five projects a month this year. “I’m making the best effort I possibly can.”
At this week’s hearing, 11 customers testified about their frustrations. St. Paul resident Matt Lacy said he is still fuming even though Able managed to finish his project this summer with the help of a subcontractor. Lacy made a $23,000 down payment on his project in October 2016.
“There have been so many runarounds and so many things that have continually happened that, no, I am not satisfied in the least,” Lacy testified. “It was excuse after excuse. ... I wouldn’t recommend him to anybody.”
Some customers testified that Harvey bullied them by threatening to bill them for his attorney’s time if they claimed he was in breach of contract. Harvey said he was simply trying to force any disputes into arbitration, as the customers agreed to in their contracts.
Harvey said his biggest mistake was stepping away from the business for nine months in 2015 and 2016 to work on his house in River Falls. He said he left the business in the hands of bad employees who failed to do their work properly. He also claimed an office manager stole nearly $200,000, creating major financial problems for the company.
Case, however, made it clear she would not allow Harvey to shift the blame.
“To say other people are responsible for the performance of your company is not really relevant to your license,” Case told Harvey. “You didn’t bring any evidence to show what you did with the money you took in. ... That’s the case.”
After the hearing, Harvey broke into tears when asked if he would appeal the judge’s ruling if she agreed with state regulators that he should be barred from the electrical industry.
“I don’t know how much stamina I have left,” Harvey said. “The state said yesterday that only a delusional person does this. I’m not delusional.”