PACE financing practices come under fire from Hillsborough commission after 8 On Your Side report


Posted: Jun 20, 2018 04:28 PM EDT

Updated: Jun 20, 2018 06:32 PM EDT



TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The managers of Ygrene Energy Fund, a company that finances home improvement projects in Hillsborough County, will be fired if they don’t put consumer safeguards in place, county commissioners warned Wednesday.

“I just hope it doesn’t happen again,” said Hillsborough Commission Chair Sandra Murman. “Because if it does, we’re going to have to figure out a way to end this relationship.”

Ygrene is one of several financial institutions that provide loans through Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, and operate with an approved list of contractors.

Wednesday, Ygrene’s Director of Government Relations told commissioners her company has fired the contractor we’ve been investigating since April for deceptive sales practices.

“The only update I can share with you is we have terminated this contractor in our program,” said Kate Wesner.

PACE enables homeowners with poor credit to obtain home improvement loans and pay through a special assessment on their property tax bill, but critics say consumers end up with bulging tax bills that they can’t afford, which put them in danger of losing their homes.

PACE business practices have come under intense scrutiny since our 8 On Your Side investigation revealed that two men who went to prison for organized fraud were working for one of the contractors that provide home improvements under the Ygrene/PACE banner.

The investigation, which was verified by Hillsborough Consumer Services, also revealed that Summitwood Works LLC, owned by Neal Scoppettuolo was misleading consumers about defective roofs and misrepresenting the company as a government entity.

The swindlers, Carlton Dunko and Frank Pureber, were hired to work on Scoppettuolo’s sales and marketing team. Dunko even lives with Scoppettuolo.

Ygrene first learned of Scoppettuolo’s association with the two con artists a year ago but failed to act until months after we started reporting on his misleading business practices in Pasco, Hillsborough and Collier counties.

At Wednesday’s commission meeting, Wesner told commissioners Ygrene terminated Scoppettuolo as an approved contractor as soon as the company found out he was sending out false advertising and taking advantage of consumers.

But our investigation discovered Ygrene first learned of Scoppettuolo’s business relationship with convicted swindlers a year ago, and learned he was sending out deceptive advertising in April in Pasco County.

Ygrene spokesman Jaquin McPeek previously told 8 On Your Side Scoppettuolo had been “suspended” but not fired. On Wednesday, McPeek said Ygrene “terminated” Scoppettuolo “within the past few days.”

McPeek says Ygrene has been operating for five years and has a good track record of handling 20,000 PACE loans.

Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller believes Scoppettuolo and his associates deserve more than termination for taking advantage of unsuspecting elderly and disabled customers under the auspices of the government-sanctioned PACE financing program.

“We’re not going to run them out of Hillsborough County, we’re gonna lock ’em up for the things that they do. I mean to pray on the elderly and disabled and those that are misfortunate.”

The Hillsborough County Commission told Ygrene to return July 18 to explain the company’s policies that safeguard and protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices.

Meanwhile, Hillsborough consumer protection investigators have turned over complaints against Scoppettuolo and Summitwood to the Hillsborough State Attorney’s office for possible criminal prosecution.