CEDAR RAPIDS — An owner of a Marion company that provides energy-efficiency services pleaded guilty Wednesday to a light bulb scheme where he inflated the number of LED tubes his company replaced for customers of a utility company, making at least $250,000 in fraudulent rebates.
Dustin James Hutcheson, 39, owner of Hutch Energy, LLC, pleaded to one count each of mail fraud and money laundering. During the plea, he admitted he falsely told customers he could replace LED tubes in their homes in exchange for rebates from Utility-1, a utility company offering the rebate program in Iowa. Hutcheson also admitted to forging customers’ signatures on the rebate forms, so Hutch Energy could receive the rebates from the utility company.
Hutcheson also admitted to falsely reporting the number of tubes his company replaced and using the U.S. Postal Service in carrying out the scheme — mailing the rebate forms to Utility-1.
From May 2017 through June 2018, Hutcheson and his employees called or made in person visits to Utility-1 customers and offered to replace their lighting at no cost with LED lighting, according to court documents. They told customers they only needed to provide them with the rebate checks from Utility-1.
Hutcheson and his employees created fraudulent invoices for Utility-1, with inflated costs of the tubes and number of tubes replaced, court documents show. But the customers didn’t actually pay the amounts on the Hutch Energy invoices and many times didn’t pay Hutch Energy anything.
They also forged signatures of the customers on some of the rebate forms to ensure Utility-1 would mail a rebate check to the customer, according to court documents. In some instances, Hutcheson forged customer’s signatures in order to endorse the checks over to Hutch Energy.
The Utility-1 contractors’ energy assessors made recommendations to Utility-1 customers about whether upgrades should be made, so as part of the scheme, Hutcheson secretly paid employees of the contractors to recommend Hutch Energy handle the upgrades. Hutcheson paid no less than $4,000 in kickbacks, court documents show.
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U.S. District Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts told Hutcheson he faces up to 20 years on each charge and more than $1.5 million in fines. He also will have to serve up to six years of supervised release following his prison term.
Sentencing will be set after a presentencing report is completed.
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