Natural-Gas Trader Gets Six-Year Prison Sentence In $7.8 Million Scam

2011-5-10

A commodities trader who bilked natural-gas companies out of $7.8 million in a years-long scam was sentenced on Monday to six years in federal prison and ordered to repay those ill-gotten gains.

Stephanie Roqumore, 48, pleaded guilty in February to eight counts of wire fraud.

She had also been charged with nine counts related to spending proceeds of her scam, but those were dropped in a deal with prosecutors, who recommended lenient sentencing. The six years was at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines.

Roqumore owned three Houston natural-gas trading firms --SRR Energy Management Resources, which did business as Gas Energy Management, Gas American Resources and Resource American Energy.

In her plea, she admitted to filing false financial statements from those companies to natural-gas companies in order buy natural gas from them on credit. She then sold the natural gas to other parties and pocketed the proceeds without repaying the loans.

The first time she did so, she sent bogus financial statements in June 2002 to closely held Virginia Power Energy Marketing to obtain $1.46 million worth of natural gas that she sold and for which she never paid.

All told, Roqumore failed to repay $7.8 million worth of loans over eight years, according to court records. Her victims include Hess Corp. (HES), Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) and Merrill Lynch & Co.'s Entergy-Koch Trading unit as well as 11 other, mostly private, firms.

While unpaid loans would normally be a matter for a bankruptcy court to sort out, Roqumore's borrowing became felonious because of the fake financial statements that were transmitted from her Houston offices.

On Monday, Roqumore told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes that she dug herself into a hole trying to make new deals to pay off earlier trades. "It just snowballed," she said.

"I did not set out to hurt anyone," Roqumore said. "I simply set out to create a business," and, along the way, "I compromised my values."

Hughes said he doubted Roqumore's sorrow was genuine. He said her efforts in a separate but related civil case to prevent the forfeiture of a suburban Houston home she bought with fraud proceeds and put in her mother's name indicated no remorse.

"The guy that walks into a bank with a shotgun has more character than you," he said. "You hid in the backroom and told people you were doing good things for them, wheeling and dealing."

Roqumore will forfeit that home as well as another nearby to the government, which will sell the properties and distribute proceeds to the victims.

Her lawyer, Wendell Odom Jr., said Roqumore, who is undergoing cancer treatment, has little else to relinquish, having spent the money or used it in other money-losing trades.

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