Wind-power scam that hooked Hollywood celebrities puts Canadian man in US custody

The U.S. attorney in Raleigh has indicted 21 people for a conspiracy to sell used cooking oil, a valuable commodity, and immigration violations.
The U.S. attorney in Raleigh has indicted 21 people for a conspiracy to sell used cooking oil, a valuable commodity, and immigration violations. Observer file

A Canadian man accused of running a fraudulent wind-power investment scheme that ensnared Hollywood celebrities and took more than $400,000 from a North Carolina man was ordered Wednesday to stay behind bars while awaiting trial.

James Alan Rowan, 59, fought extradition from Canada after his 2013 indictment by a federal grand jury in Raleigh but appeared in an orange jumpsuit Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Gates.

He faces two counts of wire and securities fraud related to his Ontario-based business Enviro-Energies Group, which lured U.S. investors to what it described as an inexpensive roof-mounted wind turbine capable of producing enough electricity to power a home, the indictment said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Toby Lathan said Rowan hired actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. (“St. Elsewhere”) as a spokesman and had late-night host Jay Leno mount a turbine on his garage.

A 2009 YouTube video still shows Begley standing with Rowan at an Arizona construction show, where he touts the product federal authorities now denounce as fraud.

“We’ve gone on to a whole new level with Enviro-Energies,” Begley says in the video.

Rowan told investors he had invented and patented a new type of wind turbine that did not require a tower and worked like a merry-go-round rather than a windmill, saving money, blending better with its surroundings and posing less of a threat to birds, the indictment said.

It would produce nearly 9,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, six times more than the 1,500 generated by windmill-style turbines. He falsely described the turbines being inspected and validated by the U.S. Department of Energy and an independent safety science company, the indictment said.

Other falsehoods listed in the indictment: Rowan said he had built many working prototypes, had partnered with manufacturers and research groups and was about to offer shares through an initial public offering, or IPO.

“It’s a crime of deceit,” Lathan said.

No working version of the turbines was ever built or delivered, the indictment said.

“The representation that an IPO would occur in the near future was a complete fiction,” the indictment said. “In fact and in truth, Rowan never hired an investment bank to underwrite the IPO, never filed any registration statements with the (Securities and Exchange Commission) nor did he make any other viable plans for an IPO of Enviro-Energies stock certificates.”

One victim in eastern North Carolina, identified in court documents only as R.H., gave Rowan $420,000 in 2008 but never received any stock certificates.

Rowan’s attorney argued for his client’s release, noting that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had agreed to supervise him and that he had not so far attempted to flee despite Canada’s vastness.

The U.S. government first sought extradition from Canada in 2016, which Rowan fought until this year. Gates said fighting doggedly was Rowan’s right but did not factor well into his release back to Canada.

Josh Shaffer covers Wake County and federal courts. He has been a reporter for The News & Observer since 2004 and previously wrote a column about unusual people and places.