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petro america

KC man pleads guilty to $7.2 million securities fraud conspiracy

Scheme targeted thousands of investors nationwide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 18, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a Kansas City, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to his role in a $7.2 million securities fraud conspiracy that victimized thousands of investors across the United States and Canada who bought shares in Petro America Corporation, which was purported to be a profitable company with $284 billion in assets.

Charles Hooker, 50, of Kansas City, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes to the charge contained in a June 15, 2011, federal indictment.

By pleading guilty today, Hooker admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. Hooker was a team leader who recruited investors and sold shares of stock for Petro America. Contrary to the fraudulent representations Hooker and others made to victim-investors, Petro America had no oil, no realistic prospects for obtaining, transporting or storing large amounts of oil, no significant assets, no revenue and no employees other than the CEO.

Hooker knew the Petro stock shares were not registered when he started selling them. Hooker has never been licensed to sell securities and did not check with the state of Missouri or with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to determine whether the company was registered, or whether it was legal for them to sell shares. After Hooker found out about the Missouri cease and desist order, he never contacted state regulators or an attorney to find out if it was legal to sell the shares. Today’s plea agreement also refers to an investor in Beverly Hills, Calif., whom Hooker persuaded to invest $150,000 in Petro America.

Through word of mouth, and through the church community, the news about Petro exploded. Hooker’s friends and family agreed to invest in Petro. Many shareholders were regular churchgoers, and word about Petro spread through Kansas City area churches. The ministers told their friends. Hooker, a minister, attended meetings of the Minister’s Alliance. They wore white fedora hats and made choreographed entrances into places. Some members of the Minister’s Alliance were gifted shares of Petro stock for them to sell.

Hooker did not purchase shares of Petro, but was gifted 80 to 90 million shares for bringing in investors. Hooker sold those shares for $100 for 100,000 shares. By April 2010, Hooker had sold all his shares and began selling shares that had been gifted to co-defendant Teresa Hill, 55, of Kansas City, Mo. Hill, who was also a team leader, has pleaded guilty to her role in the conspiracy. The proceeds that weren’t spent were kept at the house, not in a bank. Hooker did not use a bank account and dealt mainly in cash.

In November 2008, Hooker learned that the state of Missouri had issued a cease and desist order that barred the sale of unregistered Petro stock. Hooker nevertheless continued to be involved with Petro, despite what the plea agreement describes as several other “red flags.”

Hooker and Hill sold their shares together in concert. A total of $67,258 in cash went into Hill’s accounts in 2007 and 2008. After that period, Hooker received at least $25,000 from the sale of Petro shares in concert with a co-defendant, the Rev. Edward D. Halliburton, 57, of Kansas City, Kan., who was president of the Minister’s Alliance. The minimum loss attributable to Hooker and Hill’s conduct is $77,000, and the maximum is $144,258.

Hooker is the sixth defendant to plead guilty in this case. Hill; Halliburton; Allen Collins, 55, of Raymore, Mo.; Joseph Harrell, 50, of Waco, Texas, who acted as the CFO of Petro America; and Russell Hopkins, 48, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., have also pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy.

Under federal statutes, Hooker is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 13, 2012.

Web Site Support For Fraud Victims

Two Web sites have been established to collect information from the victims of the alleged securities fraud scheme and to provide updated information about the status of the case. Investors of Petro America are encouraged to provide information via an online form at www.postalinspectorsurvey.com/PetroAmerica.  Due to the volume of expected responses, this process has been automated and placed online; all communication from potential victims regarding the case should be made via this Web site. Updates about the status of the case will be posted at www.justice.gov/usao/mow/divisions/petro.html

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel M. Nelson and Kathleen D. Mahoney. It was investigated by IRS-Criminal Investigation, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Office of the Missouri Securities Commissioner.

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