Days after local media personality Jerry Miller encouraged listeners to take legal action against Sigora Home, a now-defunct Charlottesville solar panel company that reportedly owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to people throughout Central Virginia, Miller took a call from former Sigora CEO Mike Ball.
In a recording of the call obtained by The Daily Progress, Miller and Ball discuss a $30,000 payment that would apparently keep Miller from discussing Sigora on his podcast “The I Love CVille Show.”
“I had a couple clarifying questions for you,” Ball says at the start of the call. “The 30K, the terms of it, as I understand it, are basically three appearances on the show.”
“You got three appearances to come on the show and a news cycle that will not be the Sigora spotlight moving forward,” Miller responds.
Ball claimed that his company was strapped for cash and wanted to know if Miller would accept any other compensation.
“So other than 30K up front, is there anything else I could potentially consider as possible?” Ball asks.
Miller responds that the company owes him $7,000 for a breached contract and that his “retainer for crisis management” is $50,000, implying that the $30,000 offer should be considered a good deal.
It’s unclear what $7,000 or breached contract Miller was referring to. He did not respond to requests for comment from The Daily Progress.
On the phone call, Miller tells Ball that since he began discussing Sigora on his show, 71 families had reached out to him about their negative experiences with the company.
“So we are going to roll out a segment on our show called the Sigora Solar Saga,” Miller says. “In each show, I’m going to relay a firsthand perspective from middle-class America, the position they’re in financially because of this company.”
“That’ll be every day,” he adds.
“And so, if I can’t do this, that’s what I can expect?” Ball inquires.
“I mean, I think the community deserves to know that’s happening here, man,” Miller responds.
Sigora never made the payment, and Miller continued to speak negatively about the company on his podcast.
There was plenty of fodder for Miller. Over and over again, Sigora customers, contractors and even employees have raised alarms about the company. Many say it did shoddy work and ghosted customers. Recently, an employee told The Daily Progress that Sigora embezzled money from their 401(k).
A source familiar with the situation who asked to remain anonymous told The Daily Progress that Miller gave Ball a deadline. When Ball did not meet it, he received a message from Miller: “Every day from here on out,” reads the message viewed by The Daily Progress.
An internal Sigora email from Ball references the deadline. In it, Ball claims that missing the deadline resulted in Miller’s “Every day from here on out” text.
Ball also wrote that Miller had sent him a follow-up message: “I will mention your company to the Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney on Thursday.”
Sigora also appears to have gone to the authorities. At the top of Ball’s email, he mentions having a meeting scheduled with Joe Platania, Charlottesville’s commonwealth attorney.
“I have spent some time accumulating emails/screenshots/notes on a timeline so I feel like I have everything I need to present the full detail of events,” Ball wrote in the email.
“All these messages did was bolster our case. [Miller] didn’t get 30k out of us and he turned vindictive and even more threatening,” he concluded.
It is not clear if the meeting between Platania and Ball occurred.
“I’m declining to comment at this time,” Platania told The Daily Progress when asked.
Ball also declined to comment.
While several on Twitter and Reddit who have been watching the drama unfold online say they believe that the recorded phone call is evidence of extortion, at least one legal expert is skeptical that would hold up in court.
“Extortion is hard to prove as a criminal case. You don’t see it prosecuted a lot,” local attorney David Heilberg told The Daily Progress.
Heilberg said he thinks it would be hard to prove that the statements Miller made on his show about Sigora were injurious to the company’s reputation, particularly because Sigora’s reputation is already badly damaged after so many people have spoken publicly about Sigora’s many alleged transgressions.
“If that’s what the company was doing, then reporting on negative things the company did, I don’t see how that’s extortion,” Heilberg said. “How badly can you damage a reputation if it’s disreputable?”
In his June 29 and June 30 shows, Miller told listeners that he was choosing to focus on Sigora because his show “champions the little guy.”
“I’m trying to do this because I want to go to bat for the underdog, I want to champion the underdog, I want to stand up for the families out there that are just like my family,” he said.
But would Miller have continued to bat for the underdog, for families out there that are just like his, if he had received the $30,000 payment?
“It’s bad form and maybe journalistically unethical, but there would have to be more for it to rise to extortion, it sounds like,” Heilberg said.