Galwayman Padraic Maloney owns the UK-based Hibernia Solar Energy company.
Gardaí are investigating complaints from a long list of customers, some of whom are out of pocket by as much as €16,000.
Maloney (56), from Rahoon, was convicted in February 2012 of three counts of theft, and was given a two year sentence suspended for 12 months.
He had been charged in connection with the theft of nearly €40,000 in cash, stealing from one man’s house five times over the course of seven months in 2008 and 2009.
Maloney set up Hibernia Solar Energy, which specialises in installing solar panels into client’s homes.
Vet Marc Cronin, a father-of-four from near Kinnegad, Co. Westmeath, is waiting for his money back from Maloney.
“Back in September, we as a family started talking about getting solar panels and we looked online and we sent out enquiries to several companies, some came back and some didn’t,” explains Marc.
“We then got in with Padraic because he was responding, and he was giving prices in advance of a site visit.”
Marc agreed to pay Maloney a deposit of €6,900 – 50 per cent of the total €13,800 cost of the installation.
Maloney visited Marc’s home in January.
“I had sent him several emails asking was his company actually genuine, as I had heard nothing back,” Marc recalls.
“He arrived in a rental car from the airport wearing a shiny suit. He came across as an affable fellow, saying he was from Galway and based in the UK.
“He said he had problems getting installers, as the company has no employees on the technical side.”
Marc said Maloney also told him he had become a professional snooker player, and his family once owned a snooker hall in Galway.
“He was a great salesman, full of chat,” said Marc.
Marc and his wife Olivia own an electric car and also operate a geothermal ground energy pump, which extracts heat from the soil and is used to heat their dormer home. The pump needs electricity to operate.
They wanted to place about 12 solar panels on their roof, which would not have been enough for their plans, so they were going to add a further 25 panels in a plot next to their house.
Marc said Maloney’s company was registered with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), and that there had been a grant of up to €3,000 to install solar panels.
“Padraic told me that it could be early February before it could be installed,” Marc recalls.
“After two weeks into February I kept getting excuses off him. Then we got a date for March 15. I was supposed to get a mini-digger to dig a trench for an electric cable, because he didn’t have that. I was trying to get a definite answer — was he coming?
“Then a couple of times he said had to talk to the installer. I had the phone number of the installer, who was down in Wexford, and he said he had been duped. So we read the riot act to Padraic and he said he’d do it in two weeks and the same thing happened.”
In March, Maloney then offered a “substantial reduction” in price if Marc rearranged to the instalment to another date.
“I said I didn’t want any more dealings with him and wanted my money back, which he promised he would [give],” adds Marc.
Marc was given a date of March 29, but no money was paid over.
“The last email was on May 5 and he told me he had been assured the money had been transferred, but I told him I had received nothing,” says Marc.
“I tried several times to contact him since but he has ignored me. There was a nice girl in his office I had also been dealing with, but she stopped taking calls and emails as well.”
Marc said Maloney’s company has carried out installations elsewhere around the country.
“Either he’s a very unlucky and bad businessman, or he’s got a very clever scam, where he sets up a company in high demand for solar demand, installs some solar panels, so he can tell prospective customers ‘here ring this fellow, I’ve done his install’.
“That’s what I did... that kind or reassures you and you give the deposit.
“I know four people who have had an install by him, but I know 28 people who are now looking for money back.”
Marc since got a different company to install his solar panels in late May.
He said Gardaí have told him the complaints are now being investigated.
TheSunday World contacted Maloney’s UK mobile number, which goes to voicemail. He read a WhatsApp message sent to him by us but he did not respond.
The SEAI said in a statement: “Companies operating under SEAI schemes are registered on the basis of tax and insurance compliance and a commitment to installing works to relevant technical standards.
"SEAI is aware of issues with one particular solar PV company in relation to deposits paid. Once we became aware of these complaints the company was deactivated on our register and currently remains inactive.
"In respect of deposits paid, this is a contractual matter between the respective homeowners and the company. SEAI advises all grant applicants to have a contract in place with their contractor, thereby ensuring appropriate levels of consumer protection should it be needed.”