Former Lobbyist Indicted for Obstruction of Justice
A former lobbyist was charged in an indictment with obstructing justice in connection with an ongoing federal investigation and proceedings concerning a multi-million dollar high-yield investment fraud scheme, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Christopher Petrella, 51, of Greer, South Carolina, was arrested yesterday and charged in the Western District of North Carolina with one count of obstruction of justice.
Ten individuals had been previously indicted by a Charlotte grand jury for their alleged roles in a high-yield investment scheme involving Niyato Industries Inc. The charges in that case allege that the defendants raised money from investors by representing that Niyato manufactured electric and compressed natural gas (“CNG”) automobiles when, in truth, the company had no facilities, no operations, and no capability to manufacture anything. That case is scheduled for trial.
The indictment returned on Tuesday and unsealed yesterday alleges that Petrella, who worked to promote Niyato and purportedly lobbied on Niyato’s behalf, attempted to obstruct, influence and impede the ongoing federal investigation into the alleged Niyato fraud, as well as the upcoming trial, by misleading federal law enforcement about his own involvement with Niyato and by portraying himself as a whistleblower. Petrella is alleged to have produced to a federal law enforcement agent a bogus “quarterly report” related to his lobbying work for Niyato. According to the indictment, Petrella also falsely claimed he had filed the “quarterly report” with the U.S. Congress pursuant to certain requirements applicable to federal lobbyists. The bogus “quarterly report” purportedly disclosed to authorities that certain individuals had made false and misleading statements about Niyato’s business and operations on Niyato’s Twitter and Facebook pages. In reality, the indictment alleges that the “quarterly report” Petrella produced to federal law enforcement was a sham and Petrella’s statement that he had filed the document with the U.S. Congress was false.
Petrella’s initial court appearance is scheduled on Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 10:40 a.m. before Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer in the Western District of North Carolina.
An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Christopher Fenton of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.