SEC: Man Switches Company Name For Offering, Buys Autodialer And Database For 17K, Targets Wealthy Investors, Racks Up $1.4 Million Before Scheme Collapses
UPDATED 6:15 P.M. ET (U.S.A.) A California man ordered by five states to cease and desist from selling unregistered securities started using a different corporate name, bought an autodialer and database with the names of wealthy investors for $17,737 and used it for at least six months to fleece clients before the scheme collapsed in December 2009, the SEC said.
The scheme, which targeted investors in the United States and Canada, raised at least $1.4 million — some apparently before the database acquisition in June 2009.
The SEC now has gone to court to stop Thomas L. Labry and his company, Cherokee Gas Systems,Â from fleecing investors in a fraudulent oil-and-gas scheme at a property in Oklahoma known as the “Walters Field Priddy Sand Unit.”
The assets of Labry and Cherokee have been frozen and a receiver has been appointed, the SEC said.
While operating by a different name — Iron Horse Petroleum Inc. — Labry was ordered by five states to cease selling unregistered securities: Illinois, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Alabama and Arizona, the SEC said. Some of the orders date back to 2000.
In addition, Labry was sued in California under RICO statutes for fraud, and the plaintiffs secured a judgment of $647,776.12 in a 2006 case.
Cherokee was incorporated in Oklahoma in 1991, and conducted business from Costa Mesa, Calif., the SEC said. It is not registered to sell securities. Labry lives in Newport Beach. The Cherokee website was registered in January 2009, according to web records.
The website appears to use a shared server that hosts 3,751 other sites, which may lead to questions about why a company that charged investors $25,000 per unit and purported that each unit would return $725 a month at a minimum did not use dedicated hosting.
“In approximately December 2008, Cherokee began soliciting potential investors throughout the United States, including through the use of cold calling,” the SEC said.
Investors received a brochure from Cherokee that was “almost identical to the brochure previously disseminated by Iron Horse . . . except that the Cherokee brochure refers to ‘Cherokee’ rather than ‘Iron Horse,’” the SEC said.
The Oklahoma corporate registration of Iron Horse was suspended in August 2006 for failure to pay franchise taxes, records show.
In December 2008, Labry began to use the name of Cherokee in an investment offer, according to the SEC.
“To facilitate this general solicitation, Labry, using Cherokee investor monies, purchased dialing software that can automatically place outbound calls from a preloaded database of numbers,” the SEC said. “In these calls, Cherokee representatives offer investors the opportunity to purchase units in oil and gas wells purportedly owned by Cherokee located on Walters Field in Oklahoma, for $25,000 per unit. In instances where an investor does not want to purchase an entire unit, Cherokee allows the investor to purchase a fraction of a unit. Cherokee representatives tell investors that they will start receiving returns on their investments, paid monthly, within 45 to 60 days of the investment.”
In June 2009, Labry purchased a database that targets telephone numbers ofÂ “Homeowners Age 60+ with income $100K and up” and “Homeowners Age 60+ with wealth 1 million,” the SEC said.
Cherokee represented that investors would receive returns of 35 percent a month.
Although investors did not get paid, the attorney who represented Labry in the California lawsuit filed by investors did — as did a convicted felon, the SEC said.
The attorney received cashier’s checks totaling $105,000, the SEC said.Â The attorney has not been accused of wrongdoing.
Investigators identified the felon as Gary Maddux, whom the SEC said was convicted of wire fraud and mail fraud in 1998. Maddux received cashier’s checks totaling $221,195, the SEC said.
Maddux was charged in 1997 with bilking elderly investors in a fraudulent telemarketing scheme known as “Prizewinners.” In the Prizewinners case, people were told they had won a sweepstakes and could collect their winnings for a fee.
Since December 2008, the SEC said, Labry withdrew at least $268,000 in cash from the Cherokee bank account, as well as $466,283 that was used to purchase cashier’s checks for “various individuals who were not investors.”
Labry also “made withdrawals totaling $148,126 that were used to purchase cashier’s checks made out to ‘SCS,’ one or more of which he then cashed,” the SEC said.
When investors questioned why they weren’t getting paid, they were “falsely told by Cherokee agents that oil production is ‘behind’ and that they will receive payment within a certain number of weeks or by a certain date.”
The payments were not made, the SEC said.