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Solar "salesman" explains how 91-year-old financed panels she'd pay off at 114 | Call Kurtis Investigates

How a 91-year-old financed solar panels she'd pay off decades later
How a 91-year-old financed solar panels she'd pay off decades later 05:09

BUTTE COUNTY – Solar panels sit on the roof of a run-down home on a dirt road in South Oroville. A salesperson somehow got the 91-year-old woman who lived there to finance the $35,000+ project that she'd pay off when she turned 114. Phyllis Simmons died months after the solar panels were installed.

"Why is a 91-year-old woman that has a roof that's in poor condition getting signed up for solar?" Daniel Lessard asked.

You might call that a surprising question coming from him. Lessard is the salesman listed on the 2019 contract for the Freedom Forever solar panels.

"I've never met Simmons a day in my life," Lessard told CBS13. "I learned about Ms. Simmons when I got the complaint."

Lessard says Simmons' estate served him with a lawsuit claiming elder financial abuse years after he says he left the company called Apricot Solar. The complaint also names the company doing business as Apricot Solar and the solar panel company, Freedom Forever, which we profiled in a previous investigation.

Kurtis asked Lessard, "How did your name end up on this 91-year-old's contract?"

"My name was forged by another sales representative at the direction of the CEO of the company (Apricot Solar)," Lessard said.

Lessard claims in court-filed declarations, that Apricot Solar's chief executive officer Dave Bengel asked for his login credentials to the company sales portal to help out another salesperson.

"As somebody who was just trying to be a team player and just do what my boss asked me, I reluctantly agreed, having no idea of the consequences of what he was asking me to do," Lessard explains.

Lessard also says he now realizes other Apricot Solar workers who were not licensed to sell solar panels were using his login credentials to DocuSign his name to contracts.

In court documents two former employees back Lessard's claim. The former Apricot Solar Vice President says, "During my tenure, it was prevalent for CEO Dave Bengel to endorse forgery in an attempt to boost sales."

CBS13 showed Lessard the story of Sacramento's Andrea Bokreta, who insists she never signed a contract, with a different Apricot Solar representative.

Freedom Forever solar panels were never installed on her roof. Yet, more than a year later, Bokreta learned of a lien on her home, and a loan for more than $11,000.

"I thought that's a mistake, because I knew I didn't sign anything," Bokreta says.

Bokreta admits to giving the salesperson her Social Security number because she says he needed it for an estimate and a credit check.

"If you're providing your Social Security number, you need to understand that you are filling out a loan application," Lessard says. He adds that with those personal details, a salesperson can also electronically sign one's name.

"Now that person can act as you," Lessard says. "That person has his iPad probably facing towards him. He could be tap, tap, tap, to increase his sales numbers."

CBS13 analyzed the DocuSign audit trail in Bokreta's case. It shows she viewed and signed a 29-page loan agreement in six different spots over a span of 27 seconds.

"I hope that the salesperson didn't sign it himself and just tap," Lessard says.

Freedom Forever agreed to cancel Bokreta's contract last month. The lien on her house was terminated.

The California Contractors State License Board revoked Lessard of his license to sell solar panels. He says he did not fight it because he was already out of the industry.

As for the lawsuit against him?

"I have represented myself in this civil litigation," Lessard says. "Had no choice. I could not afford an attorney.

Simmons' estate just dropped Lessard from its lawsuit. But, it is pressing forward against Apricot Solar and Freedom Forever.

Lessard maintains he did not do anything wrong.

"I didn't get paid by any of this," he says. "I had no reason to do any of this. I was entirely used as a scapegoat for fraud to make this company more profitable.

CBS13 reached out to Apricot Solar's CEO Dave Bengel and his attorney eight different times to get their take on all of this. They never responded.

However, in court documents, Bengel denies any allegation of fraud or elder financial abuse.

Call Kurtis Investigates also reached out to the attorney for the salesperson Lessard claimed forged his signature.

They replied that they would have no comment.

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