- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona judge has released hundreds of customers from their leases with a now-defunct rooftop solar installation company due to rampant fraud.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Casey McGinley of Tucson released 1,157 customers of Salt River Solar and Wind from their leases and sentenced the company’s owner to five years in prison last month.

Many of the 1,157 customers who were released from their leases never saw their solar panels installed despite paying deposits, The Arizona Republic reported (https://bit.ly/1LrrJTp ).

Public records suggest Salt River Solar and Wind installed about 500 leased solar arrays in Salt River Project and Arizona Public Service territories from 2009 to 2012, and hundreds of additional systems were canceled in 2012 as the company ran into trouble.

Some Tucson Electric Power customers could be eligible for restitution because Fricker’s activities in that utility’s territory were what the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the FBI targeted for prosecution.

“This person was a serial financial predator,” said Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “Mr. Fricker was engaged in a pattern of fraud that extended beyond his activities in Tucson.”

The Attorney General’s Office was flooded with complaints from around the state about equipment that was paid for but never installed, equipment that didn’t work, and customers who did not receive promised service.

Salt River Solar and Wind ceased operations in 2013 after the state revoked its license, but the attorney general’s office and the FBI continued their investigation.

Investigators said Fricker required at least 25 Tucson customers to pay him both an up-front deposit and the value of the utility’s rebate they would get for the solar setup. He promised they would get the rebate when it was paid but he never paid them.

Fricker was indicted on multiple felony charges in January 2014. In October, he was convicted of fraudulent schemes and artifices and illegally conducting an enterprise. He agreed to pay up to $1 million in restitution.

Court records show he could have avoided prison, but the FBI found that he violated a term of his plea agreement by marketing solar products in California.

Carol Girvan of Tucson said Fricker belongs in prison. She and her husband paid the company $17,800 in 2011 for a solar system but Fricker never paid them the $15,500 rebate from the utility.

“When you are a senior citizen, and a veteran like my husband, this is a life savings for us that we will never recoup,” Girvan said.

Salt River Solar and Wind also had problems with a federal tax-credit program that was aimed at kick-starting the solar industry during the economic downturn. Federal records indicate that Salt River Solar and Wind was paid for systems that were never installed. It also was rejected or denied payment for some systems that were placed in service.

Many customers paid their leases up-front, so releasing them from the contract won’t save them any money.

Prosecutors are encouraging potential victims of the company to call the attorney general’s office. Claims must be submitted to the court by Aug. 14.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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