A 70-year-old retired lawyer in Texas who ran an oil and gas services company pleaded guilty today in Washington federal court to obstruction of justice in a securities fraud investigation.
Franklin Fisher, Jr., the former chief executive officer of Houston-based Aztec Oil & Gas, faces up to 10 year in prison on the charge, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said. Fisher, who agreed to cooperate, will forfeit $390,000. Fisher’s sentencing, in front of Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has not been scheduled.
Fisher, whose lawyers include Steptoe & Johnson litigation partner Reid Weingarten, is the third lawyer to plead guilty in the ongoing securities fraud investigation. Robert Brown, a former name partner in New York’s Brown & Rosenblatt (now Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt) pleaded guilty in November 2009 to one count of obstruction of justice. Melissa Mahler, a former Nixon Peabody lawyer, pleaded guilty in January 2010 to one count of making a false statement.
The charge against Fisher stems from his involvement in an investor newsletter that prosecutors said contained false and misleading disclaimers. Fisher, Aztec’s CEO and chairman from June 2007 to February 2010, and Shelly Singhal, a securities broker from Newport Beach, Calif., helped pay for newsletters that recommended investors purchase Aztec shares.
Prosecutors said the newsletters did not comply with securities regulations. Fisher, according to the government, knowingly concealed the source of funding for the newsletters during interviews with FBI agents. More on the case, from the U.S. Attorney's Office, here. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Vasu Muthyala and Michael Atkinson are prosecuting the obstruction charge against Fisher.
Singhal, represented by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, was indicted in Washington federal district court last April on charges he participated in a conspiracy to defraud investors through a stock manipulation scheme that involved artificially increasing the demand for shares for companies that included Aztec. Singhal has pleaded not guilty.
Steptoe's Weingarten, a lawyer for Fisher, was not immediately reached for comment Tuesday evening.