The state is looking to sell former state Rep. Mark A. Howland’s land in Lakeville to refund customers of his East Freetown wind turbine company.
“Our number one concern has always been to maximize the amount of restitution for consumers. In order to achieve that goal, we now plan to move forward with all possible legal options to enforce our mortgage and execution on Mr. Howland’s property and use any monies obtained from a sale to reimburse those who have suffered a loss,” Amie Breton, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, wrote in a statement that comes more than four years after Attorney General Martha Coakley filed suit against Howland and his business, WindTechCo.
Coakley’s office is discussing a foreclosure or a type of auction known as a sheriff’s sale of Howland’s three parcels on Kristian Way and expressed hopes that a sale would net a substantial piece of the more than half-million dollars Howland still owes in restitution.
Online property records list the three Lakeville parcels as owned by a trust with a Hawaii address in the name of Howland and his wife, Bonnie. They total just under 26 acres, with an assessed value of $389,900 as of fiscal 2010.
After doing business with Howland in 2006, Joan Jones of Harwich said she and her husband, Richard Jones Jr., are still out thousands of dollars.
The two paid Howland more than $15,000 for two turbines they never received, she said. The money ended up buying just two concrete footings that were installed incorrectly, according to Joan Jones, who said she has only received about $2,600 in restitution checks from the state.
“Now, I’m over the initial ‘I can’t believe it.’ But originally I was so angry and my husband was embarrassed because he’s a businessman,” Joan Jones said. “All those emotions played out in the beginning of all of this.”
The two turbines Arthur Larrivee bought from Howland are “churning along,” after one of them snapped in a 2007 storm due to a glitch he blames on the manufacturer. Combined with roof-top solar panels, Larrivee said the turbines are cutting his electricity bills by an estimated 30-35 percent.
Howland “got in over his head,” Larrivee said. “I don’t think there was any dishonesty involved.”
Howland could not be reached for comment Tuesday or Wednesday at several numbers or through an attorney. In 2007, Howland said he was the victim of a smear campaign and a witch hunt by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-state agency that issued a cease-and-desist order against him.
But several local residents also complained of not getting what they paid for. Among them is Lee Tripp of Tripp Farm in Westport, who said after paying Howland’s company about $40,000 for a turbine, “I got nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Meanwhile, Dartmouth resident Eileen Marland said she and her husband paid thousands of dollars for two wind turbines that weren’t built strong enough and were installed by a subcontractor in a place ill-positioned to capture the wind.
Coakley summed up the complaints in a 2007 suit in Fall River Superior Court.
Howland misrepresented the turbines’ energy capabilities, misrepresented reimbursement potential through the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and failed to inform customers of local permitting requirements, Coakley alleged, and a judge froze Howland’s bank accounts and granted a temporary restraining order to stop him from trying to sell wind turbines.
In October 2008, the Attorney General’s Office obtained a consent judgment against Howland that barred him from running a business selling and installing alternative energy systems. While denying the judgment’s allegations, Howland agreed to the restitution, which gave him a year to pay $488,000, and said if he missed the deadline, the amount would be increased to $638,000.
The state was also given rights, title and interest from the sale or foreclosure of the Howlands’ Lakeville property and the option to foreclose on the land if restitution wasn’t paid within a year.
A year came and went. And after Howland missed his October 2009 deadline, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office said that if he didn’t sell his property by April 15 of the following year, the state would probably foreclose. That deadline was later bumped to April 15, 2011 to allow Howland to take advantage of an improving real estate market.
But in a still slow market, Howland’s efforts to sell the property didn’t produce the potential for an adequate return, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which said that if Howland ultimately pays his $618,000 restitution (which comes with another $20,000 in a penalty and costs), it will fully refund 34 people who bought alternative energy systems from him and the site-assessment fees paid by 73 others.
So far, Howland has paid $93,312 to the state, of which the vast majority has been disbursed to customers. He was keeping up with $3,000 monthly payments until November 2010, when he lost his job, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
Jones said she was happy to hear about the state’s action.
But “I didn’t think he should have been given as much time as they gave him,” she said. “He took our money.”
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