The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged New Orleans based Treaty Energy, five executives and an attorney Tuesday with fraudulent stock manipulation.
The SEC alleges Treaty fraudulently claimed to have struck oil in Belize to boost its stock price and illegally sell restricted shares to the public.
According to the complaint filed in Texas, Treaty issued “deceptive press releases” touting the success of drilling operations in Belize and Texas to raise demand for its unregistered stock.
The SEC claims Treaty Energy’s founder Ronald Blackburn and four company officers – Andrew V. Reid, Bruce A. Gwyn, Lee C. Schlesinger and Michael A. Mulshine – earned at least $3.5 million in profits from the scheme.
Reid and Gwyn are additionally charged with signing false certifications in Treaty Energy’s SEC filings.
“These company officers were behind press releases and SEC filings announcing drilling successes that were simply falsehoods designed to deceive the market and put investor money into their own pockets,” SEC Associate Director for Enforcement David Peavler.
The SEC also charged Houston-based attorney Samuel Whitley with securities registration violations and facilitating the alleged fraud by issuing false legal opinion letters that allowed free trading of the restricted company stock.
Treaty also allegedly misrepresented the potential output and return on investment for a well in West Texas.
The company offered investors working interests in the well promising a yield return of 111.42 percent over a 10 year period.
The SEC said Treaty and its officers knew these claims were “baseless because the well was producing only marginal amounts of oil.”
The well produced 235 total barrels from October 2013 to October 2014.
The SEC is asking for the defendants to pay back the money earned from the alleged scheme with prejudgment interest plus financial penalties as well as penny stock bars, officer-and-director bars and permanent injunctions.
A trial date has not been set yet.