St. Anselm Defendants Exonerated in Ponzi Case

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A Judge in U.S. District Court has dismissed a suit brought by the SEC against Denver-based St. Anselm Exploration, an oil and gas exploration company. Judge Robert E. Blackburn dismissed claims from the SEC that St. Anselm had engaged in a "Ponzi-like" scheme, opining that, when hit by the 2008 economic downturn, the company moved swiftly to protect investors' principal.

When defendants realized their business model no longer worked in the then-current economy, they moved with appropriate speed to revamp it and save investors' principal.

An opinion handed down in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado completely exonerates St. Anselm Exploration, a Denver-based oil & gas exploration company (stanselmexploration.com). St. Anselm had been the target of a SEC lawsuit alleging a “Ponzi-like” scheme that allegedly affected over 200 investors and involved a reported $62 million in company promissory notes. A Ponzi scheme typically relies on using money from new investors to pay off old ones.

“St. Anselm and the individual defendants are very pleased with this result and relieved to be able to put this matter behind them,” said company attorney, Burke Riggs. The case was originally filed in March 2011.

In the case, United States Securities and Exchange Commission v. St. Anselm Exploration Co. (Civil Case # 11-CV-00668-REB-MJW), Michael A. Zakroff, Mark S. Palmer, Anna M.R. Wells and Steven S. Etkin (“Defendants”), Judge Robert E. Blackburn exonerated the defendants (in his written opinion) and declared that the claimed Ponzi scheme never existed, opining that “(t)he evidence fails to establish that SAE [St. Anselm] had any of the true hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”

In his opinion, Judge Blackburn further found that St. Anselm “conducted legitimate business operations and historically (and contemporaneously) produced profits and earnings” and that none of the Defendants fraudulently or negligently omitted facts from investors.

In his opinion, the Judge also refuted claims by the SEC that the Defendants made misrepresentations to induce investors to invest into St. Anselm. Rather, Judge Blackburn found that “. . . with the economic downturn of 2008 and the sudden decline in the relevant markets, the company’s historical ability to sell assets to fund operations was compromised.” He noted, however, that “when defendants realized their business model no longer worked in the then-current economy, they moved with appropriate speed to revamp it and save investors’ principal.”

The Order was handed down on March 29 after a full and complete trial on the merits in front of Judge Blackburn that occurred in the summer of 2012.

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Andrew Laing
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