Convicted in Hennepin County, ordered to pay $750,000 in restitution
A River Falls businessman is facing multiple charges in two Wisconsin counties related to swindling customers out of money through his solar energy and thermal installation company, Able Energy Corp.
Michael J. Harvey, 43, is scheduled to appear in Pierce County Circuit Court at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 17 for an initial appearance on a felony theft – business setting (>$5,000 to $10,000) charge. If convicted of that charge, he faces up to six years in prison and/or fines up to $10,000. Harvey is also charged in Eau Claire County Circuit Court with felony theft – business setting (>$10,000 to $100,000). If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and/or fines up to $25,000. He is slated to appear for a court hearing at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 25 in the Branch 2 courtroom.
And finally, on Sept. 6, Har vey was sentenced to six months in the workhouse and ordered to pay $750,000 in restitution in Hennepin County District Court. Harvey, who had pleaded guilty to theft by swindle in July, faced up to 20 years in prison under the original charges filed in Hennepin County.
Harvey was the owner and president of Able Energy, an Oakdale- based company that shut down in 2018 after the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry revoked Harvey’s electrician’s license and obtained a court order requiring him to repay $1.5 million to unhappy cus- tomers, the Star Tribune reported.
According to the Pierce County complaint: On May 13, 2017, a town of Oak Grove woman entered into a contract with Able Energy to install solar panels at her property. On May 18, 2017, she authorized an automated withdrawal from her bank account for a down payment totaling $7,884. Harvey told the woman the down payment enabled her to be in a “queue” and her installation date was set for October 2017.
On Aug. 29, 2017, the woman made a second payment of $7,884 into an account in which Harvey was a holder. No work was ever done nor materials received.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consum er Protection had received numerous complaints, including in Pierce County, that Harvey and Able Energy received payment for solar project work that was never completed.
Despite setting up contracts to complete the work and collecting money, Harvey never performed any of the work nor returned the money. The DATCP tipped ou the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Consumer Protection and Antitrust Unit.
Eau Claire County
According to the Eau Claire County complaint: The DOJ also investigated claims from seven victims in Eau Claire County that Harvey collected money for solar projects but never completed the work.
One victim entered into a contract with Harvey on Dec. 27, 2016 and paid him $11,354 on Dec. 30, 2016, followed by a second payment for the same amount on May 19, 2017.
Victim No. 2 entered into a contract with Harvey on Dec. 22, 2016 and paid him $4,785 on Dec. 22, 2016, followed by a second payment of $4,702.50 on Feb. 10, 2017.
Victim No. 3 entered into a contract with Able Energy on Dec. 13, 2016 and paid a $5,443.20 down payment on Dec. 31, 2016, followed by a second installment of $2,961 on May 9, 2017.
Victim No. 4 also entered into a contract with Harvey on Nov. 14, 2016, who collected a $5,000 down payment that day, a second $1,000 payment on Nov. 28, 2016 and a third $1,200 payment on Dec. 26, 2016.
Victim No. 5, who also contracted with Able Energy, paid Harvey $6,905.25 on Dec. 29, 2016 and $6,770.70 on Feb. 12, 2017.
Victim No. 6 signed a contract with Harvey on Dec. 28, 2016 and paid him $7,573.50 on Jan. 3, 2017. A second payment was made to Able Energy totaling $7,435.75 on Feb. 10, 2017.
According to the victims, Harvey never performed any of the work promised. The only thing ever provided was some design documents.
On Aug. 30, 2021, Harvey was charged in Hennepin County District Court with felony theft by swindle for defrauding at least 53 clients across multiple Minnesota counties out of more than $1 million. Harvey promised to provide and install solar panels from Jan. 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018.
The Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau investigated claims against Able Energy and Harvey for 1.5 years, according to a Hennepin County news released in August 2021. The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry’s Construction Codes and Licensing Division also conducted a civil licensing investigation.
According to the criminal complaint, Harvey handled technical issues, oversaw online marketing, and worked on new construction projects. He was also responsible for the company’s finances, acted as the signer for business bank accounts and most checks withdrawn from the business’s accounts.
Harvey told sales representatives to “incentivize customers” by promising their jobs would move up in the queue if they paid more upfront. The cash flow allowed Harvey to try to “prop up his failing business.” Sales representatives were also told to lie about project start dates. When they allegedly raised concerns about start dates, Harvey pushed them to continue making sales. Clients were also encouraged to sign contracts with Able Energy to take advantage of financial incentives through electric utilities or government entities.
In mid-2017, Able Energy was working with a company named Itek, which supplied it with “Made in Minnesota” eligible solar panels. Made in Minnesota was a program which subsidized solar panel installation if some system components were made in Minnesota. Itek required advance payments for the solar panels, which added to Harvey’s financial woes.
In Fall 2017, Itek’s solar panel production was delayed for about two months, the complaint stated. Harvey said this was why customers’ timelines were being delayed, when in reality, he didn’t have the money to purchase the solar materials. When Itek attempted to cash a check from Harvey on Jan. 31, 2018, it bounced.
Harvey also tried to lure clients with a rebate program ouered through Minnesota Power called “SolarSense.” To qualify for the rebate, a client’s solar installation had to be completed by a certain date. By December 2017, 10 potential SolarSense projects to be installed by Able Energy missed the deadline. Minnesota Power stopped approving Solar-Sense applications from Able Energy in December 2017. Despite this notification, Harvey continued to solicit SolarSense projects and didn’t tell clients who had pending applications about the company’s decision. He tried to skirt the system by submitting applications under his defunct company, Financed Energy LLC. All of those applications were rejected.
Able Energy’s state electrical contractor license expired on March 1, 2018 and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry issued a licensing order on March 5, stating that Able Energy’s electrical contractor license and Harvey’s master electrician license had been revoked. Harvey continued to receive payments from clients who had already signed contracts, the complaint states. He also pushed his sales reps to sell more projects.
From March 5, 2018 to July 31, 2018, he collected about $82,000 in contract payments. None of the clients were informed that Able Energy had no licenses.
The complaint details how Harvey kept his financial troubles hidden from associates, including an accountant he asked for help in January 2018 for payroll and taxes. Harvey never submitted bank records to the accountant for review.
Bank records from 2016 revealed how Harvey obtained money from clients. A new contract check would be deposited into a business account, earmarked for solar installations. The money would instead go to advertising, loan payments and payroll expenses. Harvey also used clients’ money to make purchases at restaurant, retail stores, hotels and grocery stores. He also transferred client funds into his personal account. All Able Energy’s known business accounts were empty, overdrawn or closed by June 2018.
From Jan. 1, 2017 to July 31, 2018, Harvey defrauded 53 clients from more than 10 Minnesota counties for about $1 million, along with 22 clients in Hennepin County he bilked for about $500,000.