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Houston firm, CEO charged with fraud after $600 million stock collapse

The Securities and Exchange Commission this week charged a Houston-based oil-and-gas firm and its CEO for making fraudulent claims about the company’s oil reserves.

A report in Petro Global News said Houston American Energy Corp. and John F. Terwilliger claimed that a Colombian exploration concession in which Houston American only owned a fractional interest held between 1 billion and 4 billion barrels of oil reserves.

They also claimed the reserves were worth more than $100 per share to Houston American’s investors, the SEC said.

The estimates “lacked any reasonable basis and were falsely attributed to the concession’s operator,” whose actual estimates were much lower, the SEC said.

The stock price went from less than $5 per share to more than $20 per share.

“Terwilliger and Houston American misled investors by wildly exaggerating the extent and nature of their oil and gas holdings,” said Gerald H. Hodgkins, associate director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.

“They used a cadre of third parties to publicize and bolster their misleading claims,” Hodgkins said.

The company’s stock price eventually cratered under the weight of the fraud.

Houston American now trades for approximately 40 cents per share, which represents a market capitalization loss of $600 million since it peaked in April 2010.

The SEC also charged stock promoter Kevin T. McKnight and his firm Undiscovered Equities Inc., who were paid by Houston American to disseminate its fraudulent claims about the oil-and-gas concession project in Colombia.

The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that the fraudulent conduct by Terwilliger and Houston American occurred during several months in late 2009 and early 2010. During this time, Houston American raised $13 million in a public offering.

The SEC said: “Contrary to the lofty estimates made by Terwilliger and Houston American, the company participated in drilling multiple unsuccessful wells on the concession from 2010 to 2012, and withdrew from the operation in early 2013 without recovering any oil.”

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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