Oil company ConocoPhillips is suing its former senior drilling and wells planner and a small group of co-conspirators, including an Anchorage police officer, for a scheme in which they allegedly embezzled nearly $7.3 million.
Lawyers for Conoco filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday against Forrest Wright, his wife Amanda Wright and Amanda’s father, David Benefield, as well as Anchorage Police Officer Nathan Keays and his wife Kelly Keays. It also names what Conoco described as two sham companies and a Nevada corporation in which the Wrights allegedly invested the money.
Forrest Wright and Nathan Keays appear to have known each other since high school in Fairbanks, where both attended West Valley High School, according to their Facebook pages.
The Thursday filing is a civil complaint, mostly based on an investigation by Conoco. But another filing in the case refers to a related criminal investigation by the FBI.
The complaint says Forrest Wright resigned from his position at Conoco last week. A company spokesperson would not answer any questions about the case, including where in the company hierarchy Wright’s position put him.
Nathan Keays has been with the Anchorage Police Department since 2005 and is assigned to the K9 Unit. He has been placed on paid administrative leave “due to his involvement in a federal investigation and pending internal investigation,” the department said in a statement Friday.
“At this time, APD has no reason to believe this investigation involves Officer Keays’ official duties with APD,” the statement said.
Conoco’s filing, based on an investigation by its security manager, alleges Wright created fake acquisition orders for materials and services. Then, two fake oil field services companies — one incorporated in his father-in-law’s name and another owned by the Keayses — billed Conoco using fake invoices for things like pipe joints the company never received and pipe inspections that never happened, according to the civil complaint.
Conoco alleges Forrest Wright used his position to pre-approve the fake companies, DB Oilfield Support Services and Eco Edge Armoring LLC, as vendors to Conoco and deceived others at Conoco into approving the payment of the fraudulent invoices.
For example, the complaint says Wright hired Eco Edge for $2,075 a day between March and October to inspect pipe stored at the Fairbanks railroad yard.
“Employees of the Alaska Railroad state that they never heard of Eco Edge or encountered any individuals performing the services that Eco Edge was supposed to be providing,” Conoco’s complaint says.
Wright also allegedly used fraudulent invoices to get Conoco to pay nearly $1.5 million total to Eco Edge for nonexistent pipe joints. Nathan Keays at one point sent an email saying they were at an Anchorage machine shop, according to the complaint. Later, the machine shop said they had never had that much pipe, the complaint says. It would have been about 44 truckloads of pipe joints.
Likewise, DB Services supposedly sold Conoco hundreds of thousands of dollars of adjustable pipe racks, cribbing and inspection shelters that, as the company found out later, had never been delivered and could not be located.
The civil complaint says the Wrights funneled the embezzled money — moving what the filing describes as “several million dollars of stolen money” across state lines — to a limited liability corporation they started in Nevada. They then bought at least 17 houses in the Las Vegas area, according to the complaint.
The Keayses paid off a mortgage and bought property in Eagle River, the complaint says.
In a motion to freeze the defendants’ assets, Conoco’s lawyers wrote that Wright was expected to be interviewed by the FBI on Thursday and that he and the other defendants would know about law enforcement’s involvement. That might cause them to try to hide the money, the filing says.
A judge agreed Friday and ordered the defendants’ financial institutions frozen.
Court records do not yet list attorneys for the Wrights or the Keayses.
In the civil suit, Conoco is arguing that the case should be considered racketeering, and therefore under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that the company should be entitled to triple the damages it claims.
Conoco says it has suffered damages of “at least” $7,297,970.