Six men have been sentenced for a total of just over 30 years for their part in a £17m solar panel fraud scheme following a lengthy investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Insolvency Service and several other organisations
Stephen Wilson, Robert Ross, Niall Hastie and Kenneth Reid, as well as brothers David Diaz and Ludovic Black, appeared at Liverpool Crown Court on 1 October after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by false representation.
Over more than two years, the six men devised a scam to sell and install solar energy panels which would enable their customers to generate extra income in addition to the government’s feed-in tariff. However, they defrauded around 1,500 victims including elderly, retired and vulnerable people.
The Insolvency Service originally received complaints about Solar Energy Savings Ltd and were concerned as they had previous dealings with some of the six fraudsters through an earlier investigation into a company miss-selling domestic alarms.
Investigators discovered that representatives of Solar Energy Savings would encourage people to spend significant sums to install solar panels. The incentive for the customers was the offer of an additional cashback scheme which falsely guaranteed that their costs would be separately and safely invested, insured and returned to them in full in a number of years, risk-free.
In reality no such guarantee existed and no money was ever invested as claimed, leaving the victims out of pocket for between £10,000 and £20,000.
Investigators also found that their salespeople used unscrupulous tactics, such as describing the offer as a limited promotion and indicating that the customer was in an ‘optimum’ position, no matter what the reality.
Instead of reinvesting the funds as promised, the money was transferred between Solar Energy Savings and other companies to misdirect law enforcement, prolong the scam and aggressively pursue more fraudulent sales through apparently separate entities.
The defendants’ bank accounts also showed that they had paid themselves around £1.9m from the companies and were enjoying extravagant lifestyles including driving sports cars, having cosmetic surgery and taking private jet flights to Switzerland and Italy.
The criminal prosecution led by the SFO took four years to collect all the evidence necessary, aided by Police Scotland, Greater Manchester Police, the Trading Standards Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Scott Crighton, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service, said: ‘This was a complex investigation, which involved close working between the SFO and the Insolvency Service. In addition to supplying the SFO with all the information we had gathered during civil proceedings, our officers provided further details in the build-up to prosecution, prepared materials for the defence and also attended court to give evidence.
‘The six men cheated a vast amount of people out of thousands of pounds and their sentences should serve as a warning to others that we remain committed to pursuing those who abuse and defraud vulnerable victims.’
Report by Pat Sweet