A California man has pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme to fleece investors who bought into fictitious oil-and-gas projects in Eastern Montana's Bakken oil patch, authorities said Tuesday.
The guilty plea for Mike Alfons Campa, 54, of Yorba Linda, Calif., came as a jury trial got under way in U.S. District Court in Great Falls for the four remaining co-defendants in the case.
Campa changed his plea at the start of the trial after previously refusing plea deals offered by prosecutors. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge of wire fraud and mail fraud, and up to five years on a conspiracy charge.
Court documents show the government will seek $675,000 to $6 million in restitution.
A sixth defendant, Dana Yvonne Kent, has been sentenced to 18 months prison for her role in a scam that authorities say netted $673,000 from unwary investors.
The fictitious projects promoted by the defendants were linked to the booming Bakken oil patch of Eastern Montana and western North Dakota, according to authorities. Investors were promised lucrative returns, with initial investments to be repaid within six months and then regular monthly checks flowing to investors thereafter.
To make the story more believable, the defendants presented a copy of a 2006 letter from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approving three oil and gas leases on land owned by a Fort Peck tribal member. The leases were canceled in 2007, but authorities allege Campa and the others continued to solicit investors for another five years.
The remaining defendants are Suzette Gal, Andras Zoltan Gal, Krisztian Zoltan George Gal and Steven Carpenter, all of California. Their trial is expected to last up to two weeks, the U.S. attorney's office said.
Suzette Gal is married to Campa, according to court documents. Andras and Krisztian Gal are her sons from a previous marriage.