Fugitive arrested in windmill scam

ESCANABA – A windmill salesman accused of swindling customers from the Upper Peninsula out of nearly $100,000 in 2011, was tracked in Pennsylvania and is now lodged in jail in Delta County on 11 fraud charges.

Following a two-year joint investigation between the Michigan State Police and the Delta County Sheriff’s Department, Billy Lee Parish, 57, of Kincheloe, was apprehended by U.S. Marshals, said Det. Sgt. Matt LaBonte of the state police post in Gladstone.

“We had a bunch of warrants against the guy,” LaBonte said this morning, explaining that undercover officers from the Michigan State Police Fugitive Team had been working on the case and located Parish in Pittsburgh, Pa.

U.S. Marshalls were asked to assist in the case and tracked Parish down and arrested him on Dec. 23, said LaBonte. Following extradition procedures, LaBonte and Det. Sgt. Dan Johnson, from the sheriff’s department, drove out to Pennsylvania and picked up the fugitive and transported him to the Delta County Jail on Wednesday.

“It was a good cooperative effort between us and the sheriff’s department,” commented LaBonte, noting that the two departments shared in the costs and were able to pursue the suspect and bring him back to Delta County to be prosecuted.

Parish was arraigned Thursday in Delta County District Court on 11 felony charges of false pretenses more than $1,000 but less than $20,000. Each count carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Parish is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in district court on Jan. 27. At that time, the judge will decide if a crime has been committed and Parish was involved. If so, the case will be bound over to circuit court where the defendant may make a plea or go to trial.

Parish allegedly scammed about 45 victims from across the U.P., said LaBonte. Incidents in Delta County took place from May through November 2011.

“During the incidents, Parish would solicit homeowners and ask if they were interested in purchasing electricity-generating windmills,” the detective stated in a news release.

Parish allegedly took a minimum $2,000 down payment and would only partially complete the work or, in some instances, took the money and never returned, added LaBonte.

After Parish was questioned by police in late 2011, he fled the area and has been on the run ever since, said LaBonte.

When Parish was placed in the custody of the two local detectives earlier this week, the suspect indicated he was tired of looking over his shoulder, said LaBonte this morning.

Additional fraud charges against Parish are pending in other counties, the detective added.

In the fall of 2011, law enforcement officials from Delta and Menominee counties asked area residents to report any suspected fraud regarding the purchase of wind mills.

At that time, Menominee County Sheriff Kenny Marks had issued a press release warning of the possible larceny by conversion taking place. Buyers claimed the windmills were never completely installed or that the equipment did not work.

Regarding an incident reported in July 2011, a Daggett Township man purchased a windmill which did not work. The buyer attempted to notify the contractor who installed the product but the seller did not answer telephone calls, according to the police report.

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, jlancour@dailypress.net