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AG Keith Ellison sues solar-panel sales companies, execs over alleged fraud

Attorney General Keith Ellison claims the Utah-based solar companies, lenders and company executives engaged in "deceptive and fraudulent practices."

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is taking aim at four solar-panel sales companies he alleges used fraudulent practices that resulted in tens of thousands of dollars for Minnesota homeowners.

The announcement from his office Tuesday says Ellison filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court against the Utah-based companies, lenders and company executives for "engaging in deceptive and fraudulent practices," involving marketing and selling residential solar panel systems. Ellison asserts the practices cost affected homeowners between $20,000 to over $55,000. 

Ellison called the alleged conduct "shameful," and said it "hurt both Minnesota families and legitimate companies in the solar industry."

"Holding bad actors like these accountable helps every legitimate solar-panel company and every homeowner that wants to save money, improve their home, and do right by the environment,” the statement read.

With the lawsuit, Ellison is pursuing restitution for the affected homeowners, in addition to civil penalties and the state's costs. Ellison is also demanding the defendants admit to violating state laws. 

Further, the lawsuit asks that all customers be able to cancel their contracts with the companies involved.

The investigation and subsequent lawsuit stem from multiple complaints and sworn statements by consumers to both the attorney general's office and the Better Business Bureau. Ellison's office claims the companies misrepresented costs, used deceiving marketing tactics, and in some cases, installed solar panels that did not always work.

The companies, lenders and individuals involved in the lawsuit include: Brio Energy LLC (d/b/a Pure Solar Energy and Clean Energy Educators); Bello Solar Energy (f/k/a Total Solar Solutions and Brio Solar Energy LLC); Avolta Power, Inc. (Brio changed its name to Bello, then Avolta as its sales practices came under scrutiny around the country); and Sunny Solar Utah LLC (d/b/a Sunny Renewable Energy); company executives Jared Fager, Michael Kaelin, and Alan Whitaker; and lenders Goodleap LLC (f/k/a Loanpal LLC); Sunlight Financial, LLC; and Corning Credit Union Services Company, LLC.

In part, Ellison's announcement read:

I’m suing these companies because they’ve taken advantage of Minnesotans’ good intentions to save some money for their families and create a cleaner environment for everyone. They deceived consumers into believing that they were partnering with utility companies when they weren’t. They tricked homeowners who thought they were signing up for more information into signing binding contracts. They exaggerated how much money consumers would save on their utility bills than was likely or possible. They told consumers they were automatically eligible for tax credits when they weren’t. When consumers tried to get out of these contracts, the companies threatened them with lawsuits and exorbitant termination fees. And when consumers went through with installation, these companies often did a poor job and didn’t deliver on their promises.    

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