The former chief financial officer and former vice president of accounting and reporting at Canadian oil and gas company Penn West Petroleum have settled charges for their role in an accounting fraud scheme that spanned several years, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced Tuesday.
In June 2017, the SEC had charged Penn West Petroleum (now doing business as Obsidian Energy) with fraudulently moving hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses from operating expense accounts to capital expenditure accounts. “Penn West was one of the largest oil producers in Canada, but historically struggled to keep its operating costs—a key financial metric that the investing public looks to when evaluating the financial health of an oil and gas company—under control,” the SEC complaint stated.
As a result, in 2012, 2013, and the first quarter of 2014, a scheme was executed to make the annual and quarterly financial reports that Penn West submitted to the SEC and disclosed to investors “tell a different story about the company’s financial condition than the one that actually existed,” the SEC complaint stated. According to the SEC, the fraud was orchestrated by Penn West Petroleum’s former CFO Todd Takeyasu, former vice president of accounting and reporting Jeffery Curran, and former operations controller Waldemar Grab.
“The object of the scheme was to deceive the investing public by understating Penn West’s publicly reported operating expenses and related financial metrics and making the company appear to be managing costs more efficiently than it actually was,” the complaint stated. “In other words, as a result of defendants’ scheme, it appeared that Penn West was spending less money to get oil out of the ground than it actually was.”
As alleged, this fraudulent practice was not disclosed to the company’s external auditor and caused the company’s financial statements to be materially inaccurate. September 2014 is when the company publicly reported it would restate its financial statements from 2012 to the first quarter of 2014 and that its historical financial statements and related audit reports could no longer be relied upon. The company and Grab separately settled the fraud claims in 2017.
Without admitting or denying the allegations, Takeyasu and Curran agreed to be permanently enjoined from violating the record-keeping and internal controls provisions of Section 13(b)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 13b2-1. Takeyasu has also agreed to be permanently enjoined from violating Exchange Act Rule 13b2-2, to pay a monetary penalty of $100,000, and to reimburse Penn West $54,755 (Canadian dollars). Curran agreed to be permanently enjoined from violating the anti-fraud provisions of Section 17(a)(3) of the Securities Act of 1933 and to pay a monetary penalty of $55,000.
In a statement, counsel for Takeyasu had this to say, “We are pleased that this settlement entails the SEC’s full dismissal of all claims that our client Todd Takeyasu engaged in any knowing or intentional misconduct or accounting fraud at Penn West, which he left in 2014.”