Jury Finds Pennsylvania Biofuel Company Owners Guilty of Tax and False Statements Conspiracy
Following a 14-day jury trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Ben T. Wootton, of Enola, Pennsylvania, and Race A. Miner, of Buena Vista, Colorado, were found guilty of one count of conspiracy to make false statements to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), six counts of making false statements to the EPA, one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and one count of aiding and assisting in the filing of a false claim with the IRS, announced Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, U.S. Attorney David J. Freed for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine, and IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Kelly Jackson. The jury also found the corporation, Keystone Biofuels Inc. (Keystone), guilty of conspiring to make false statements to the EPA and six counts of making false statements to the EPA.
According to the evidence presented at trial, Wootton and Miner co-owned and operated Keystone, originally in Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania, and later in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Keystone purported to be a producer and seller of biodiesel, a type of renewable fuel. From August 2009 through September 2013, Wootton and Miner participated in a conspiracy to fraudulently generate renewable fuel credits, identified by renewable identification numbers (RINs) on Keystone fuel and, through January 2012, to fraudulently claim tax refunds based on the Biodiesel Mixture Tax Credit, a federal excise tax credit for persons or businesses who mix biodiesel with petroleum and use or sell the mixture as a fuel.
“These defendants are guilty of premeditated fraud, pure and simple,” said Assistant Attorney General Clark. “They directly stole money from the federal fisc and they masqueraded as benefactors of the environment. We are grateful for the cooperation of our partners in the Tax Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office in putting an end to this scheme.”
“Abuse of biodiesel fuel credits harms law abiding renewable fuel producers and the United States government,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman. “The Tax Division along with its partners at United States Attorney’s Offices, ENRD, IRS-CI, and EPA will vigorously prosecute those who fraudulently claim biodiesel fuel credits and violate the criminal law.”
“The defendants in this case participated in a criminal scheme that struck directly at the heart of a government program that was created to benefit both honest business owners and the community at large by encouraging the development and use of clean bio-diesel fuel,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Freed. “Instead, the defendants defrauded their fellow citizens to the tune of more than 4 million dollars. Working with our partners, we will not rest in pursuing cases that target our shared financial resources.”
“Today’s guilty verdict is a victory for the American taxpayer,” said IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Kelly Jackson. “IRS Criminal Investigation will pursue anyone who burns the biodiesel industry by enriching themselves through tax credits they are not entitled to.”
“Today’s guilty verdict demonstrates the severe consequences for anyone who tries to make a profit by defrauding the RINS market,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “EPA and its federal partners worked together to protect the integrity of the Renewable Fuels Standard program by uncovering and prosecuting the defendants’ criminal activities.”
According to evidence presented at trial, as part of the conspiracy, Wootton and Miner caused inflated fuel amounts to be reported to the IRS. The inflated fuel numbers supported their fraudulent claims for tax refunds on fuel Keystone was not producing. To account for the inflated fuel amounts, Wootton and Miner created false books and records and engaged in a series of sham financial transactions intended to mirror the false books and records. In addition, Miner doctored fuel samples and test results to fraudulently claim tax refunds and RINs on fuel that did not meet the requisite quality standards to qualify for the tax refunds and RINs. It is estimated that over $10 million was generated from the fraudulent RIN sales, and the total tax loss to the government resulting from the defendants’ conduct is approximately $4,149,983.41.
Wootton and Miner face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison on each conspiracy count, each false statement to the EPA count, and three years in prison on the count of filing a false tax claim with the IRS, as well as periods of supervised release, restitution, and monetary penalties.
Assistant Attorney General Clark, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman, and U.S. Attorney Freed thanked agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation and EPA Criminal Investigation Division, who conducted the investigation, and Senior Litigation Counsel Howard P. Stewart of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division, Trial Attorneys Mark Kotila, Kimberly Ang, and Michael Vasiliadis of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey MacArthur, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lastra, who prosecuted the case.