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Energy company CEO charged with theft-by-swindle totaling $1M

He's accused of making 'false promises' to provide and install solar panels.
Solar power

The former owner and CEO of a solar energy and thermal installation company has been charged with defrauding clients across Minnesota to the tune of more than $1 million.

Michael Harvey, 41, of River Falls, is charged with "cheating" 53 clients out of more than $1 million by making "false promises" of installing solar panels via his company, Able Energy, in 2017 and 2018.

He was charged following an 18-month investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau, which also involved the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Construction Codes and Licensing Division.

The criminal complaint against Harvey says he was responsible for the finances at Able Energy, acting as the signer for its bank accounts and most of the checks withdrawn from accounts.

He allegedly encouraged his sales team to incentivize customers by saying they would move up in the queue if they paid more upfront, which was done so he could "prop up his failing business" by using the cash they put up early.

Per the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, he would also tell his sales team to make inaccurate statements about a client's contract, such as start dates, and continued to push his staff to solicit more sales even when workers raised concerns about completing projects.

Harvey blamed a lack of material for solar panels as a reason for why projects were being delayed, and while its supplier did suffer a brief delay in the middle of the year, the main reason for the delays to clients was Able Energy's inability to pay for the panels needed to complete projects, even when materials were readily available.

It also took advantage of solar power incentive programs such as Minnesota Power's "SolarSense" rebate offer. It signed up for a flurry of projects in 2017, but by the end of the year 10 of those didn't meet the required deadline, and five more were likely to miss their deadlines.

As a result, Minnesota Power stopped SolarSense applications from Able Energy that same month, but Harvey alleged continued to solicit SolarSense projects, applying for the rebates under an "assetless and defunct company of Harvey’s called Financed Energy LLC."

He kept the company's financial problems hidden from colleagues, the charges say, and by the end of June 2018, all of the company's business accounts were either empty, overdrawn, or closed.

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