Another leading provider of solar energy systems in southeast Louisiana is the subject of a state investigation after the I-Team discovered that the CEO of the company allegedly submitted a falsified application for a contractor’s license — an application that didn’t disclose his felony record.
The company is PosiGen of Louisiana LLC,which is based in Jefferson Parish, and this probe by the state contractor’s board is the second significant one this year into an area solar panel provider. After a series of I-Team reports in February, Sader Power LLC admitted to the state that it had been operating without a contractor’s license.,was fined, and ordered to cease much of its business until it could “get legal.”
Posigen, in contrast, has installed thousands of solar systems “with” the proper state license. But it’s a document submitted with the application that is now prompting a closer look.
Tom Neyhart was in Las Vegas, at the famed Bellagio Hotel and Casino in January of 2001 when he ran into some trouble.
“This is embarrassing to myself, my family and my 100-plus employees,” Neyhart told the I-Team.
Records that show that Neyhart was charged with two felony offenses stemming from the incident in Las Vegas — battery with substantial bodily harm and mayhem.
The charges were the end result of a fight, a brawl in which Neyhart says he was defending his wife.
“A man accosted my wife — he touched her inappropriately — I defended her. At no time did I do anything but defend the woman I love and I reacted the wrong way and apologize for that,” said Neyhart.
The other person involved was seriously injured; he lost an eye, and that prompted prosecutors in Nevada to file not only the battery charge, but also a single count of mayhem …. a charge that Nevada prosecutors can introduce when a victim loses a body part due to a battery.
Court records show that in September of 2002, Neyhart accepted a deal and pleaded guilty to the battery charge. He was sentenced to five years on probation and ordered to pay $100,000 restitution. The mayhem count was dropped.
We asked defense attorney Robert Jenkins said to assess how the case played out.
“Pleading it down, he was able to get probation and then make restitution … not unusual and it happens a lot to first offenders,” said Jenkins.
“It was very unfortunate and I regret the incident — I pleaded guilty to the charge, came back and have been in no trouble whatsoever,” said Neyhart.
And that was it – case closed.
Three years ago Neyhart ventured into the burgeoning local solar power industry, launching a company called Green Grants, later renamed PosiFen of Louisiana LLC — and by all accounts, business has been sunny. PosiFen has grown into one of the largest solar power providers in southeast Louisiana.
The company has, like many others, benefited from state and federal tax credits issued in connection with the installation of panels on people’s homes.
Louisiana law says solar installation companies must have a state contractors license, and PosiGen does.
The problem is in the application. Question # 6 asks if the principals of the company has been convicted of any crimes — felonies, or misdemeanors that go beyond routine traffic matters.
The box on the application Neyhart signed is checked no.
That’s a problem, as Neyhart’s record includes that felony conviction stemming from the incident in Nevada. He says an employee made the error when filling out the form.
“When i signed the application I didn’t review it properly and there was a box that said have you ever been convicted and I did not see that we checked it no,” said Neyhart.
The state contractors’ board declined our request for an on-camera interview with Executive Director Michael McDuff, but did confirm an investigation is underway…. saying: “the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors (LSLBC) has been made aware of the alleged violation that Posigen of Louisiana LLC has falsified information on an application.”
The statement goes on to note that: “the application form specifically asks whether the applicant is a convicted felon and the applicant is required to explain if the answer is yes.”
The board does not outright reject applicants with criminal pasts, but wants the information so it can make an informed decision when issuing licenses.
In PosiGen’s case they never had that opportunity. The application didn’t disclose the felony and the board didn’t discover it.
“I take complete responsibility I should have reviewed the application more thoroughly,” said Neyhart.
State Senator J.P. Morrell of New Orleans is a leading proponent of tougher standards in the contracting industry, and solar power, in particular. He wants to make sure anyone ultimately found to have manipulated the licensing process is punished.
I think there has to be great scrutiny brought to the solar industry when it comes to installation and practices,” said Morrell.
His bill, introduced this legislative session, would allow prosecutors to pursue solar contractors using criminal charges under some circumstances. It sailed though the senate earlier this month and heads to the house in a few days.
Sen. Morrell hopes the bill becomes law, but until then, he urges the board to take a serious look at PosiGen’s application, and others.
“I think the board’s primary role is (to ask) ‘do you deserve a license or don’t you?’… and I think in this case, the board is going to have to make a judgment call as to whether or not they believe his story,” said Morrell.
Neyhart expects to be called before the board later this month or in June.
PosiGen has a B-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau — putting the company in good general standing — and was recently honored with a small business award by the Chamber of Commerce.