independence man pleads guilty to $7.2 million
securities fraud conspiracy
scheme targeted thousands of investors nationwide
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – David M. Ketchmark, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that an Independence, 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.
Curtis White, 56, of Independence, 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, White admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. Contrary to the fraudulent representations White 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.
White was a minister in Grandview, Mo., when he became involved with Petro in September 2008. He was part of the Ministers Alliance, a group of local ministers formed to support Petro and lobby government officials on its behalf. White and several others, known as the White Hat Guys because they all wore matching white fedoras, would enter shareholder meetings together. Members of the Ministers Alliance went to the plaza for dinner at Brio or sometimes the Cheesecake Factory after the Petro meetings.
White received free shares of Petro stock and was told he would receive unlimited replacement shares as he sold his shares. From at least April 1, 2010, to Nov. 15, 2010, White sold almost 40 million shares of purported Petro stock to at least 156 investors. Most of these investors were not affluent. He sold his shares for $100 for 100,000 shares. Most paid for the stock in cash, and therefore the total amount of money that White made from Petro America is not clear. But his bank records show that White received at least $75,300 from his involvement in Petro.
At times, White admitted, Petro seemed too good to be true. But he relayed information about Petro to investors without questioning the specifics too much because he wanted to make money from selling the stock.
On multiple occasions, White made assurances to investors about Petro stock that he was in no position to verify. White would tell people the positive information about the stock, but would not relay to potential investors negative information or potential problems with Petro. Usually White would not disclose to investors that he had received his stock for free. When White talked to people about purchasing Petro shares, White told them that the company was valued at $284 billion and the shares were really worth $24 each.
White admitted that he is not licensed to sell securities. White also admitted that he did not tell anyone he sold shares to about the cease and desist order that was issued by the state of Missouri on Nov. 12, 2008, prohibiting the sale of Petro stock in Missouri. The order was much discussed by the members of the Ministers Alliance and by others. White heard about and was aware of the order. However, he proceeded to sell Petro stock to investors. He did not contact the Missouri Securities Commissioner, or a securities attorney, to verify whether it was legal for him to sell shares.
Thirty of the purchasers who bought Petro stock from White were interviewed by law enforcement. They reported that White promised that Petro would soon go public, and when it did, they would become wealthy from the shares. White frequently used religious language, stating that he wanted to share the blessing. He repeated misrepresentations about Petro stock to investors, and told investors that he had more Petro stock than he would ever need, so he wanted to bless people with it.
White is the eighth defendant to plead guilty in this case. Charles Hooker, 50, and Teresa Hill, 56, both of Kansas City; the Rev. Edward D. Halliburton, 58, of Kansas City, Kan.; Allen Collins, 56, of Raymore, Mo.; Joseph Harrell, 50, of Waco, Texas, who acted as the CFO of Petro America; Brian Langenbach, 43, of Globe, Ariz.; and Russell Hopkins, 48, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., have also pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy.
Under federal statutes, White 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.
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.htmlThis 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.