Houston Man Charged with Biofuels Fraud Scheme
A federal grand jury in Houston, Texas, today indicted Philip Joseph Rivkin, a/k/a Felipe Poitan Arriaga, for offenses involving a federal renewable fuel program that allegedly netted him more than $29 million, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced. The 68-count indictment against Rivkin, 49, of Houston and most recently, Guatemala City, Guatemala, includes allegations of wire fraud, mail fraud, Clean Air Act false statements, and money laundering.
The indictment was unsealed late Thursday following Rivkin’s initial appearance in federal court in Houston. He was arrested on Wednesday evening when he arrived in Houston from Guatemala, which had deported him earlier in the day after learning that he had fraudulently secured Guatemalan citizenship.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 created or extended several federally-funded programs that created monetary incentives for the production of renewable fuels, including biodiesel, and to encourage the use of such fuels in the United States. Authorized biodiesel producers and importers could generate and attach credits—known as “renewable identification numbers” or “RINs”—to biodiesel they produced or imported. Because certain companies need RINs to comply with regulatory obligations, RINs have significant market value.
The indictment alleges that beginning around February of 2009, Rivkin operated and controlled several companies in the fuel and biodiesel industries, including Green Diesel LLC, Fuel Streamers Inc., and Petro Constructors LLC, all based in Houston. It is alleged that Rivkin claimed to produce millions of gallons of biodiesel at the Green Diesel’s Houston facility and then generated and sold RINs based upon this claim. In reality, no biodiesel was ever produced at the Green Diesel facility. The indictment alleges that this scheme allowed the defendant to generate approximately 45 million RINs that were fraudulent, which were then sold to companies that needed to obtain them and resulted in millions of dollars in sales. Rivkin is also alleged to have caused fraudulent tax credit claims based on fictitious biodiesel production.
The indictment goes on to allege that the defendant created false records and made false statements to conceal his fraudulent claims of biodiesel production, importation and RIN generation. Finally, the indictment alleges that the defendant laundered the proceeds of his crimes, using banking institutions and complex financial transactions to benefit from the illegal funds he received, and to attempt to protect these funds from government enforcement. The indictment includes a notice of forfeiture to include: cash in excess of $29 million; three vehicles including a Lamborghini, Maserati, and a Bentley; a Canadair LTD airplane; and millions of dollars worth of artwork that was previously seized from Rivkin in 2012 and is now included in a civil action for forfeiture.
An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The collaborative investigation that led to today’s indictment and yesterday’s arrest was the result of work by EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, and Homeland Security Investigations. The Guatemalan Special Investigations Unit worked with federal investigators to uncover the fraudulent nature of Rivkin’s Guatemalan citizenship, which led to his deportation back to the United States.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Leslie E. Lehnert of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.