Two biofuel company owners were sentenced to prison for conspiracy and making false statements to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conspiracy to defraud the IRS and preparing a false tax claim.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III sentenced Ben Wootton, 55 of Savannah, Georgia, to 70 months and Race Miner, 51, of Marco Island, Florida, to 66 months, after a jury convicted both defendants and their company, Keystone Biofuels Inc. (Keystone), in April 2019. The company was originally located in Shiremanstown, Pennsylvania, and later in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Miner was the founder and chief executive officer of Keystone. Wootton was president of Keystone, and a former member of the National Biodiesel Board. The court ordered both men to pay restitution of $4,149,383.41 to the IRS and restitution of $5,076,376.07 to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Wootton and Miner will also have to serve a three-year term of supervised release after their term of imprisonment. Keystone was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to pay restitution of $4,149,383.41 to the IRS and restitution of $5,076,376.07 to the Pennsylvania Department of Environment Protection criminal fine.
“The EPA and IRS renewable fuels incentive programs are important components of the Congressional program to increase the use of biofuels to benefit the environment,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan D. Brightbill of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s sentences are a strong reminder that the federal government will not allow supposed “green” conmen to illegally take advantage of federal and state programs that are meant to offer financial incentives to enhance the environment and energy sustainability.”
“The complex fraud perpetrated by the defendants in this case struck directly at the heart of a government program that was specifically created to benefit the environment, business owners and the community at large,” said U.S. Attorney David J. Freed of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “Encouraging companies to develop and provide for sale clean renewable fuels is truly a win-win proposition for everyone. Unfortunately, the defendants used this program to benefit only themselves. Today’s sentences send a clear message that my office, our federal partners and the United States Department of Justice will not tolerate renewable fuels fraud and related offenses.”
“The defendants defrauded the IRS and sought to profit from a system intended to protect the environment,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The Tax Division will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute with our partners such tax crimes.”
“Today’s sentencing demonstrates there are real penalties for those defrauding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program,” said Jessica Taylor, Director of the EPA’s criminal enforcement program. “With this action EPA and its enforcement partners are continuing to protect both the integrity of the RINs program and the American taxpayer.”
“Wootton and Miner actively engaged in a multimillion-dollar scheme designed to rob the government and line their own pockets. Today, they learned there is a steep price to be paid for such greed,” said Jim Lee, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). “It is the partnerships between IRS-CI and other federal agencies like the EPA that allow cases like this to come to fruition, holding accountable those who seek to enrich themselves through fraudulent means.”
“The only green resource these two cared about was money, and they told lie after lie to perpetuate their fraud,” said Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Driscoll of the FBI's Philadelphia Field Office. “Fair warning to anyone else seeking to scam the U.S. government and taxpayers like this: the FBI and our partners stand ready to investigate and hold you accountable as well.”
Wootton, Miner, and Keystone falsely represented that they were able to produce a fuel meeting the requirements set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for biodiesel (a renewable fuel) and adopted by the EPA, and as such were entitled to create renewable fuel credits, known as RINs, based on each gallon of renewable fuel produced. The fuel and the RINs have financial value and could be sold and purchased by participants within the federal renewable fuels commercial system.
Wootton and Miner were also convicted of fraudulently claiming federal tax refunds based on IRS’s Biofuel Mixture Credit. The Biodiesel Mixture Credit is a type of “blender’s credit” for persons or businesses who mix biodiesel with diesel fuel and use or sell the mixture as a fuel. Wootton and Miner caused Keystone to fraudulently claim tax refunds based on non-qualifying fuel and, in at least some instances, non-existent or non-mixed fuel. In an attempt to hide their fraud scheme, the men created false corporate books and records and sham financial transactions to account for the nonexistent and non-qualifying fuel, and to create the appearance of legitimacy.
The prosecution of Wootton, Miner and Keystone is the first prosecution of a case under the federal renewable fuels program based on fuel that did not meet the program renewable fuel quality standards.
The case was prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Howard P. Stewart of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey MacArthur, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lastra, and Trial Attorneys Mark Kotila and Michael C. Vasiliadis of the Tax Division. EPA Region III Criminal Investigation Division, IRS Criminal Investigation and the FBI Philadelphia’s Harrisburg Resident Agency investigated the matter.