Originally published by USATODAY

The federal government is asking a judge to order a California man and his solar-panel telemarketing companies to pay a possible $20.8 billion fine for making 1 million robo-calls to Americans who had specifically asked not to be hassled via phone.

The complaint accuses three California-based companies and their owner, Francisco Salvat, of calling people on the national Do Not Call Registry. Callers who answered the phone received a pre-recorded message warning them about an upcoming 14% increase in their electric bills, and invited them to connect with someone to lower their bill, the Justice Department said in the lawsuit. Sales agents then took down personal information and sold it to solar-installation companies, and ignored requests not to call again, the complaint says. The complaint says Salvat’s companies “spoofed” — faked or obscured — their Caller ID information so recipients would be more likely to answer.

“Breaking the law isn’t a great way for a company to introduce itself to potential customers,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The Justice Department is asking a judge to order Salvat and his companies to change their methods, and to pay a fine for every violation. Under the law, the penalty for each violation of the Do Not Call Registry is $16,000, but that can be reduced based on the circumstances or the companies’ ability to pay, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, which covers Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Riverside, San Bernardino and other counties in the Los Angeles area. The companies named in the complaint are KFJ Marketing, Sunlight Solar Leads LLC and Go Green Education.

California is undergoing a major push to install rooftop solar panels on millions of homes across the state to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and mitigate the production of greenhouse cases blamed for causing global warning.