Richard and Esther Sirinsky wanted to do a good turn for the environment. So in 2008, they decided to install solar panels on the roof of their Menlo Park home. They called a few companies and settled on Beohana Solar Corporation of San Jose.
Esther Sirinsky was particularly impressed with CEO Peter Be, who seemed knowledgeable about the panels he was selling.
"He had the product we wanted. He was very personable. His price was in the proper range," she said.
But unfortunately for the Sirinskys, Mr. Be's price turned out to be all too high. After taking their deposit, he failed to deliver the system, first stalling, then telling the Sirinskys the product was no longer available, according to Ms. Sirinsky.
When the Sirinskys demanded their deposit back, he sent only a fraction, Ms. Sirinsky recalled Tuesday.
The Sirinskys were not alone, as the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office later discovered.
Last week, Mr. Be, 42, was sentenced to eight months in county jail and ordered to pay restitution of $178,146 to 62 victims of his operation.
Most had paid Beohana Solar a $1,000 deposit, but a few paid between $2,000 and $8,000, according to Lisa Schon, deputy district attorney with the county's Consumer Protection Unit.
One customer, a hotel owner, had given Beohana $105,000, Ms. Schon said.
Mr. Be was convicted of four felony counts of diversion of construction funds and a misdemeanor count of contracting without a license. He represented himself as a licensed contractor, which he was not, according to a press release from the District Attorney's Office.
The case was investigated by the Contractors State Licensing Board, which licenses and regulates California's construction industry. The probe was "crucial in bringing justice to consumers who became victims of Mr. Be's crimes," District Attorney Dolores Carr stated in the press release.
Like other victims, the Sirinskys had called Beohana after seeing a newspaper advertisement. The ad claimed that after a 12-year lease, the solar system would be "FREE." However, Beohana's written contract stated in fine print that the systems would not be free but that homeowners would be required to pay for the equipment at fair market value, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Mr. Be's sentencing brings little comfort to Esther Sirinsky, whose faith in her ability to read people's character has been shaken.
"It's been a lot of aggravation. Plus the fact that he destroyed my self-confidence in judging people," she said. "It's very upsetting.
"I think that somebody like him deserves to get punishment and not get away with it."