FARGO, N.D. – A company that sold investments in housing developments for workers in the North Dakota oil patch ran an illegal fraud scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars, state and federal authorities said Tuesday.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit in federal court in North Dakota against North Dakota Developments LLC and its owners, Robert Gavin and Daniel Hogan, accusing them of raising more than $62 million in a Ponzi-like scheme that centered on stakes in so-called "man camps." The suit seeks to recoup money from the alleged scheme and impose fines against the defendants.
In addition, North Dakota Securities Commissioner Karen Tyler on Tuesday ordered the defendants to stop doing business. She said in a statement that the state's oil development and economic growth is getting attention around the world and some people are trying to take advantage of that.
"It's important to remember that con artists follow the headlines looking for their next exploitation opportunity," Tyler said.
North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer behind Texas. Its unprecedented oil bonanza began less than a decade ago and has brought waves of workers from outside the state. But housing development lagged behind the rapid population growth, and prices quickly jumped. Some workers turned to sharing apartments, living in tiny campers and temporary mobile homes, or sleeping in cars.
Federal court documents do not list lawyers for Gavin or Hogan. The lawsuit says Gavin is a resident of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Hogan lives in the United Kingdom.
The company didn't immediately return a message seeking comment left with an answering service after hours Tuesday.
Court documents show there were 980 stakeholders from 66 countries who invested in six different camps in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. The suit says that only one project, Great American Lodge Watford West, was operational and it has performed poorly because of "multiple project delays, cost overruns and mismanagement."
Investors were allegedly told to expect returns as high as 42 percent in the first year and guaranteed buy-back of their investment within three years. Tyler says the defendants used the money for their own real estate projects and personal expenses such as meals, alcohol and entertainment.
Tyler said the company broke state laws by selling unregistered securities, acting as an unregistered broker-dealer and engaging in unregistered agent activity.
Investors should do their homework when pitched an investment in a private transaction, Tyler said, especially when it includes "the promise of high returns, low risk and guaranteed exit."