ESCANABA - A windmill salesman accused of swindling customers in Delta County was recently bound over to circuit court after 11 charges of false pretenses were amended to one 10-year count of embezzlement.
Billy Lee Parish, 57, of Kincheloe, was arrested at a Pennsylvania jail in December on 11 counts of false pretenses more than $1,000 but less than $20,000, each a five-year felony. The charges relate to alleged windmill scams in Delta County from May through November 2011.
During Parish's preliminary examination in Delta County District Court on Monday, Judge Glenn Pearson granted an amendment to up the charges to one felony count of larceny by conversion greater than $20,000.
In addition to a maximum 10-year prison term, the embezzlement charge carries a maximum fine of $15,000 or three times the amount of money involved, according to court records which listed 13 victims from Delta County.
Parish is suspected of scamming nearly $100,000 from about 45 customers from throughout the Upper Peninsula. He fled the area in late 2011 after police questioned him about the fraudulent sales complaints.
The incidents involved Parish soliciting homeowners to purchase electricity-generating windmills. Parish allegedly took a minimum $2,000 down payment from the customers then partially completed the work or, in some cases, took the money and never returned, said police.
Following a two-year joint investigation by law enforcement, undercover officers from the Michigan State Police Fugitive Team located Parish in Pittsburgh, Pa., where U.S. Marshals detained him in December.
Det. Sgt. Matt LaBonte from the Michigan State Police Post in Gladstone, and Det. Sgt. Dan Johnson, from the Delta County Sheriff Department, drove to Pennsylvania and served bench warrants on Parish on Dec. 22.
He was transported from Allegheny County Jail to Delta County Jail where he remains lodged in lieu of a $10,000 cash bond. A date will be set in circuit court where he may make a plea or go to trial.
Additional fraud charges against Parish are pending in other counties. Reports of alleged fraud by Bill's Windmill Shop were reported in Delta, Menominee, Dickinson, Iron and Marquette counties, as well as downstate.
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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, firstname.lastname@example.org