By Jessica Resnick-Ault
(Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday charged Breitling Energy Corp, its chief executive and seven other people with defrauding investors out of around $80 million by misleading them about the value of oil and gas assets.
In a civil lawsuit, the SEC alleged that Chief Executive Chris Faulkner of Texas-based oil and gas driller Breitling, a frequent media commentator who calls himself the "Frack Master," had worked with several co-conspirators to dupe hundreds of unwitting investors in his oil and gas companies out of millions of dollars.
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The illicit gains were used by Faulkner, 39, to fund "a lifestyle of decadence and debauchery," the SEC said, including lavish travel and the use of escort services.
Faulkner allegedly took advantage of investor interest in the shale oil boom to operate the scheme in which he fraudulently sold investments in more than 20 oil and gas prospects in several states.
The descriptions of these investments were "replete with material misrepresentations and omissions," the SEC said.
The SEC said the fraud relied on four interlinked companies whose relationships weren't fully disclosed to investors.
The SEC charges that Faulkner and his associates knowingly lied to investors about the cost of drilling and completing wells, and the expected earnings for the prospects.
"Faulkner and his co-defendants duped hundreds of people out of millions of dollars by intentionally and repeatedly lying about several aspects of the investments," the SEC said in the suit, filed in the Northern District of Texas.
According to the suit, Faulkner personally misappropriated at least $30 million of investor funds.
The SEC also charged Jeremy Wagers, general counsel of GECC, Judson Hoover, BECC's former chief financial officer, Parker Hallam, former chief operating officer of Breitling Oil and Gas, Joseph Simo, who provided petroleum geology services to Faulkner's companies, Dustin Michael Miller Rodriguez, who co-founded Breitling, Beth Handkins, who controlled the bank accounts for Faulkner's companies, and Gilbert Steedley, who served as BECC's vice president of capital markets.
The four companies involved include Breitling Energy Corp, Breitling Oil & Gas Corp., Crude Energy LLC and Patriot Energy Inc.
Faulkner used the profits to fund "salacious expenditures," and to pay his ex-wife and a friend, the SEC charges.
(Additional reporting by Joshua Schneyer and Nate Raymond in New York)