United States: The U.S. DOJ Forms Oil And Gas Price Fraud Working Group To Focus On Energy Markets

Last Updated: May 4 2011
Article by Thomas P. O'Brien and Daniel Prince

Spurred by increasing public frustration over rising gasoline prices, on Thursday, April 21, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") announced the creation of an "Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group."1 The Oil and Gas Fraud Working Group (the "Working Group") has been tasked with ensuring that American consumers are not victims of price gouging at the pump, either through price manipulation or fraud in the commodities market. In his memorandum announcing the formation of the Working Group, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that "where consumers are harmed by unlawful conduct that has the effect of increasing gas prices, state and federal authorities should take swift action."2

Specifically, the Working Group will focus on any manipulation of oil and gas prices, collusion, fraud, or other violations of state and federal laws. The Working Group will be comprised of a cross-section of enforcement officials, including representatives from the DOJ, the National Association of Attorneys General, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of the Treasury, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and Energy.

In addition, the Working Group is part of the DOJ's Financial Fraud Task Force, and emphasizes the Obama Administration's commitment to enforcement. The Financial Fraud Task Force was established to "wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes and other laws prohibiting financial fraud."3 Therefore, along with assessing enforcement issues arising directly from the prices that consumers pay at the pump, the Working Group will attempt to evaluate "developments in commodities markets including an examination of investor practices, supply and demand factors, and the role of speculators and index traders in oil futures markets."4

This is not the first time that the Administration has focused on oil and gas fraud enforcement. For example, on August 31, 2010, in the Eastern District of Texas, Joseph Blimline, a majority owner of Provident Royalties, an investment company, pleaded guilty for his role in one of North Texas' largest oil and gas investment Ponzi schemes, which defrauded nearly 8,000 investors of more than $485 million.5 The criminal case against Blimline was brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, after an investigation by the FBI and the SEC.6 Similarly, on September 1, 2010, the SEC filed a suit against Jason A. Halek and two companies under his control, alleging that Halek raised approximately $22 million from at least 300 investors nationwide by making materially false and misleading statements concerning the risks related to oil and gas projects.7

The formation of the Working Group almost certainly foreshadows an increase in investigations and prosecutions, both of companies and individuals in the energy sector. As a general matter, once the DOJ or the SEC conduct an investigation that yields civil penalties and/or a criminal prosecution in a particular industry, that investigation almost inevitably spreads to other companies and individuals in the same industry. In fact, experts in the field, including Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor and former senior U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission official, anticipate that the DOJ's formation of the Working Group "is going to send a very strong signal to speculators and others who are committing malpractices in these markets, that there is a cop on the beat."8 Given that the DOJ has expanded its inquiry into energy markets (through the formation of the Working Group), oil and gas companies (and individuals working in these areas) should be aware of: (i) the importance of conducting internal inquiries; (ii) developing practical steps and guidance for performing an internal inquiry; (iii) assessing compliance strategies; and (iv) the creation and implementation of a response plan to effectively and efficiently respond to the initiation of an investigation by the federal government, including how to interface with government authorities. Put simply, in most cases, staying "in front" of an investigation often will yield the most positive results for companies (or individuals) facing federal scrutiny. In an area of enhanced government oversight, early planning and preparation may be the difference between an investigation and potential indictment.


1 Department of Justice, Attorney General Holder Announces Formation of Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group to Focus on Energy Markets (Apr. 21, 2011), http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/April/11-ag-500.html .

2 Office of the Attorney General, Memorandum to the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, (Apr. 21, 2011), http://www.justice.gov/ag/AG_Memo_to_FFETF-Gas_Prices.pdf .

3 See supra note 1.

4 See supra note 2.

5 FBI National Press Releases, Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force Announces Results of Largest-Ever Nationwide Operation Targeting Investment Fraud (Dec. 6, 2010), http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/pressreleases/ brokentrust_120610.

6 Id.

7 Id. 8 Jeff Mason, Obama administration eyes energy markets for fraud, Reuters (Apr. 21, 2011), http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-usa-energy-fraud-idUSTRE73K5FS20110421 .

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on in that way. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.