Fraud, bankruptcy cases involving solar projects raise questions

Recent legal proceedings involving fraud and bankruptcy have further tainted the solar industry and may be leaving many residents wondering whether investing in solar energy will leave them with a pile of regrets.  

As the battle between Arizona utilities and the solar industry rages, recent legal proceeding involving fraud and bankruptcy have further tainted the solar industry and may be leaving many residents wondering whether investing in solar energy will leave them with a pile of regrets.

Earlier this year, Judge David Bury of the U.S. District Court in Arizona ruled in a fraud scheme exposed by the Phoenix New Times and handed down a $3.1 million judgment against the men behind the Matinee Energy scam, including a former Clinton administration official.

The judgment came after a four-year legal battle between Matinee Energy and members of three South Korean companies: Jes Solar, Hankook Technology and Airpark Co., Ltd.

Matinee Energy filed a motion for reconsideration in March.

Between 2010 and 2012, Matinee Energy was allegedly involved in a scheme involving Arizona-based Christopher Pannos, a known fraudster, who, along with his brother, Michael Pannos, conned investors out of millions of dollars after promising them wealth from a Phoenix gold mine.

The fictitious company told investors it was acquiring land and had obtained the required permits for various solar projects. But Matinee Energy had no major financial backing, no land and had never filed a request with the Arizona Corporation Commission to build a power plant, which is required.

Investors weren’t the only victims of the scam. Matinee Energy, which operated out of Tucson, hired dozens of employees over the years and duped many of them into believing they worked for a legitimate company.

Meanwhile, another major solar case making its way through the legal system has a list of victims financially ruined by the solar company that extends into the hundreds as the saga continues to unfold.

Summerlin Energy Las Vegas LLC listed approximately 300 customers among its creditors in its bankruptcy filing in February, many of whom now face liens against their homes by Sun Valley Electric Supply Co., a subcontractor claiming to have sold more than $700,000 in solar panels and materials to Summerlin Energy.

Summerlin Energy is a solar installation company, which operates in several states including Arizona.

Because Summerlin Energy failed to pay Sun Valley Electric for its services, Clark County records show that many of these customers now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in some cases for services they already paid for.

Sun Valley Electric alleged breach of contract and fraud in its lawsuit, and hopes to recoup some of the $725,180 owed by Summerlin Energy.

Records show Sun Valley Electric placed approximately 100 liens, ranging in amounts from close to $1,000 to more than $20,000, on homes. Another Summerlin Energy supplier, Soligent, based in California, has issued approximately 60 liens.

Summerlin Energy owes at least two other suppliers more than $300,000 each and owes Soligent about $500,000, according to court documents.

In its bankruptcy claim, Summerlin Energy indicated it had approximately $680,000 in assets and more than $4 million in liabilities. The solar company planned to expand its business last year, but instead ran into a lawsuit filed by a supplier, numerous complaints from consumers worried about having to pay twice for solar panels, and investigations from contractors boards in California and Nevada.

Problems for the company began shortly after Thanksgiving last year when one of the company’s leaders was fatally shot. By February, Summerlin Energy had missed payments to suppliers, became the subject of the Nevada State Contractors Board’s (NSCB) biggest investigatory case and subsequently filed for bankruptcy by month’s end.

In the weeks leading up to the bankruptcy filing, the NSCB, which licenses and disciplines contractors, received close to 100 complaints from Summerlin Energy customers, some claiming they had been charged twice for services, and others stating the work they had paid for was either abandoned or only partially completed.

NSCB suspended the solar company’s license to operate in Nevada in early February, and the board will continue to investigate consumer complaints until a hearing is held at the end of May.

The contractors board in California has also opened an investigation into Summerlin Energy and a regulatory agency in Arizona has reported at least one complaint against the solar company.

Attorneys listed as contacts did not respond to a request for comment.

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