Justia White Collar Crime Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil & Gas Law
Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co.
Nine Illinois energy consumers sued their electricity provider, ComEd, and its parent, Exelon, on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleging injury from increased electricity rates. These rates increased, they allege, because ComEd bribed former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to shepherd three bills through the state’s legislature: the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA); 2013 amendments to that legislation; and the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Although Illinois law still required public utilities to file rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), EIMA implemented statutorily prescribed, performance-based rate increases that limited ICC discretion in reviewing rates and authorized at least $2.6 billion in ComEd spending on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure, costs that were required to be passed on to customers. In 2016, FEJA provided $2.35 billion in funding for nuclear power plants operated, paid for through a new fee for utility customers, and allowed ComEd to charge ratepayers for all energy efficiency programs and for some expenses relating to employee incentive compensation, pensions, and other post-employment benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Paying a state’s required filed utility rate is not a cognizable injury for a RICO damages claim. View "Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co." on Justia Law
Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc.
In 2000 the SEC charged First Choice and others with fraud. The district court appointed a receiver to take charge of the defendants’ assets for victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that some assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases in Texas and Oklahoma and attempted to sell them and use the proceeds to compensate the victims. Over the next 14 years, third parties sought to establish ownership interests in the leases. In this case, CRM sought to contest the receiver’s proposed sale of oil leases in Osage, Oklahoma, which it claims to have operated since 2002. The district court denied CRM’s motion to intervene and approved the sale. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that CRM knew as early as 2004 that the receiver was claiming the leases, but waited until the protracted and expensive receivership was finally moving toward an end and the receiver’s assets were dwindling to take action. View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law
United States v. Smith
The Smith brothers and others operated Target Oil, which conducted speculative resource drilling in Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Wells they represented as sure-fire investments often produced virtually no oil and many wells were never completed. From 2003 to 2008, Target Oil received about $15,800,000 in investor funds but, according to the postal inspector, distributed only $460,000 in royalties. The brothers were arrested and accused of conspiring with others to defraud investors of millions of dollars. Michael was convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and of 11 substantive counts of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, and sentenced to 120 months in prison and ordered to pay $5,506,917 in restitution. Christopher was convicted by the same jury on seven counts of mail fraud and was sentenced to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $1,652,075 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that: the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions; the government offered evidence that constructively amended or varied the indictment; their sentences are procedurally and substantively unreasonable; one of the forfeiture judgments was excessive; the district court erred in excluding a defense expert witness; and items of evidence relating to the alleged fraud were erroneously admitted. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law
Sec. & Exch. Comm’n v. First Choice Mgmt Servs., Inc.
In 2000 the SEC charged violation of securities law. The court appointed a receiver to distribute assets among victims of the $31 million fraud. The receiver found that assets had been used to acquire oil and gas leases. SonCo claimed an interest in the leases. In 2010, the district court issued an “agreed order,” requiring SonCo to pay $600,000 for quitclaim assignment of the leases and release of claims in Canadian litigation. Alco operated the wells and had posted a $250,000 cash bond with the Texas Railroad Commission. Alco could get its $250,000 back if replaced by new operator that posted an equivalent bond. The $250,000 had come, in part, from defrauded investors. Alco was incurring environmental liabilities, with little prospect of offsetting revenues. SonCo was to replace Alco, but failed to so, after multiple extensions. The district judge held SonCo in civil contempt, ordered it to return the leases, and allowed the receiver to keep the $600,000. The Seventh Circuit upheld the finding of civil contempt. Following remand, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the sanction; considering additional environmental compliance costs and receivership fees, a plausible estimate of the harm would be $2 million. ”SonCo will be courting additional sanctions, of increasing severity, if it does not desist forthwith from its obstructionist tactics.” View "Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. First Choice Mgmt Servs., Inc." on Justia Law