A Dallas licensed petroleum engineer used a radio show to lure investors into a fraudulent oil and gas investment opportunity, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this week.
Mark Plummer touted the benefits of oil and gas investments on his radio show, “Smart Oil and Gas,” on KRLD, and encouraged listeners to call in for more information. When they did, they were routed to Petroleum Resources of Texas, a company that was secretly working with Plummer, the complaint said.
He encouraged people to invest with Petroleum Resources of Texas without disclosing that it was owned by his former salesman, Mike Barrera, and that he was involved, according to the complaint, which was filed on Thursday.
Barrera was also not a registered broker, but he solicited and sold securities, the complaint said.
The company raised over $7 million from more than 70 investors from 2018 to 2020 for two oil and gas well projects, the complaint said. Money was diverted to Plummer through his latest company, Richmond Engineering Inc., it said.
According to the complaint, Plummer then used the funds to pay for club memberships, student loans, personal credit card debt, and car and mortgage payments.
Barrera, his business partner, also used funds inappropriately, it said.
“Barrera misused and misappropriated investor funds, including to pay for his lavish lifestyle,” the complaint read.
Barrera also told investors that his company would manage well projects when it was actually Plummer doing so, the complaint alleged. Three other people — Todd Prince, George Rauch and Todd Stuart Breitling — are also listed in the complaint as assisting in the fraud.
Plummer’s lawyer, Kit Addleman, a partner in the Dallas and Fort Worth offices of Haynes and Boone, did not immediately return a request for comment. Barrera does not have counsel.
Plummer started the new company because his former company, Texas E&P Partners Inc., was charged for misappropriating investor funds in a similar manner, according to charges filed by the SEC in June 2019.
Texas E&P raised $6.1 million from 2015 to 2017, and Plummer spent nearly $400,000 for personal use or improper business expenses, including entertainment, travel, retail expenses and income taxes, the charges said.
He agreed to pay over $500,000 to settle the charges, according to the SEC.
Barrera was indicted in June 2014 for a second-degree felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and later pleaded nolo contendere, meaning he received the consequences of a guilty plea without admitting guilt, according to the SEC complaint.
With repeat offenders, questions about whether the punishment is harsh enough come up. But the SEC is a civil investigative agency that is limited in what it can do, including not being able to put people in jail, SEC regional director David Peavler said. And for some, no punishment will deter them, he said.
“Some people are criminals with the mindset of taking peoples’ money,” he said.
Barrera’s company has stopped asking for money, so the SEC isn’t seeking a temporary restraining order, Peavler said. Instead, it will ask that the defendants no longer be allowed to offer oil and gas securities.
Recoveries — if any — for investors are impossible to predict, Peavler said. With cases like these, the “bad guys” often spend the money on personal expenses and by the time the SEC is involved, there isn’t much left to return to victims, he said.
“Bad guys are good at spending money. These are fraudsters. They’re not putting money in a 401(k) or a mutual fund,” he said.
While it’s possible to seize possessions to reclaim some of the money for investors who were defrauded, the problem is finding something of value to seize, Peavler said. The fraudsters often buy expensive houses that are mostly mortgaged and lease expensive cars, he said.
When the SEC gets involved, it finds that someone else has a right to those possessions, such as an auto leasing or mortgage companies.
With oil and gas cases, fraudsters are often working on a bad well that has little to no potential so it can’t be sold for much either, he said.
Avoiding fraudulent investment opportunities can be as simple as checking whether the company is registered with the SEC, Peavler said.
“Fraudsters are counting on people not doing their homework,” he said. “The more research done ahead of time, the less likely someone is to give a stranger their money for a scam.”
Unfortunately, there will always be bad actors, so people must learn to do their own research, Peavler said.
“I wish I could say that sometime, somewhere these types of cases will go away, but they won’t,” he said.