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Dane County Sheriff opens investigation into Sun Badger Solar for failing to complete installations

Office says it 'will probably rise to a statewide investigation'

Solar panels
Jim Mone/AP Photo

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Sun Badger Solar after receiving complaints the company failed to install solar panels for clients.

The office received five complaints from local homeowners alleging the Waukesha-based company never performed the work, resulting in about $165,000 in combined losses, said public information officer Elise Schaffer.

The law in question is theft by contractor, according to Schaffer. She said the office received complaints last week, some of which are from people in Middleton and western Dane County.

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“This is still a very open investigation,” Schaffer said. “It means our detectives are still working the case. It’s something that has not been given to the district attorney’s office to decide on charges or anything like that.”

Schaffer said surrounding counties, including Green County, received similar complaints. “So this will probably rise to a statewide investigation,” she said.

Wisconsin Public Radio previously reported some Sun Badger employees quit when the company missed payroll in December after it said it ran into financial challenges. Sun Badger Solar halted operations in January.

But even before the company’s financial troubles, state officials in Minnesota heard complaints. On Dec. 16, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office sent a notice to Sun Badger and President Trevor Sumner stating the office had reason to believe the company could be violating state laws.

The company is now facing lawsuits from customers, suppliers and former employees.

Brian Fahl, an attorney for Sumner, declined to comment on the Dane County investigation but provided a statement in an email.

“Sun Badger is working diligently to provide a solution for customers whose solar projects were not completed. Sun Badger hopes to be able to communicate with those customers in the near future about the solution, which will include the warrantied construction of their projects by other solar providers,” he said in the statement.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP, told WPR in an interview the agency received 124 complaints as of April 7. Of those, 15 are from people outside the state.

Michelle Reinen, the executive policy initiatives advisor for the Division of Trade & Consumer Protection, said the agency is reviewing all complaints and reviewing the actions of Sun Badger Solar.

She could not provide comment on specifics but offered advice for consumers seeking redress, such as looking to see if they have the ability to cancel a contract under the Home Improvement Administrative Code, or ATCP 110.

“If that is what they are interested in doing, given the circumstances, they may want to consult with an attorney,” Reinen said.

Schaffer of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office urged people to check if complaints have been made against a business in the past.

“Putting out this information was sort of a buyer-beware kind of warning to people,” Schaffer said. “Make sure you’re doing your homework and that you are protecting yourself against somebody who might not be a legitimate business.”

The DATCP has a webpage on solar-buying tips. Customers who want to file a complaint can email the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at DATCPHotline@wi.gov or call their toll-free hotline at 800-322-7128.