Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Owen Hawkins tries to get a new trial, gets 30 years in prison instead (updated)

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 12:48 PM

click to enlarge There's a good chance Owen Hawkins will spend the rest of his life in prison.
  • There's a good chance Owen Hawkins will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The sentencing hearing is the last stop for the convicted before they find out their punishment.

The procedure is normally a routine one that usually last the better part of an hour. The defendant answers a few routine questions from the judge before humbly asking for leniency. Sometimes family members and friends remind the court that the defendant was a fine person despite their legal troubles.

Not for Owen Hawkins Jr. The former CEO and brain behind the Petro America scam took close to three hours of the court's time before finding out that the 58-year-old will spend the next 30 year behind bars, coupled with a $10.2 million restitution order. That despite his requests for a new trial, for an easy sentence and more time before receiving his sentence. 

The $10.2 million in restitution is a working estimate of how much money investors lost when Hawkins and a number of his cohorts sold shares of Petro America after convincing thousands of people that it was a cash-flowing oil and natural resources company. Hawkins said over the years that Petro America, with its headquarters in a virtual office at Two Pershing Square, was a $284 billion company. That would have been one of the biggest companies in the world had Hawkins' facts been straight. 

But instead, investigators charged him with running an affinity scam and enriching the Kansas City, Kansas, man who used to live in subsidized housing and drove a minivan around before moving up to a Mercedes and a nice house in the Piper neighborhood.

Hawkins was found guilty in May of a gamut of financial crimes following a five-week trial. Hawkins on Tuesday, like he did during the trial, represented himself instead of using a lawyer. His pro se approach seemed like an annoyance to U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes, but it posed far bigger problems for Hawkins himself.

Hawkins papered the court docket with a number of filings trying to convince Wimes to order a new trial. Most of them Wimes didn't bother addressing because Hawkins didn't file them within court-proscribed deadlines, the sort of thing a lawyer would have been mindful of.

One, for example, was filed four months after Hawkins' conviction in May, despite legal rules that require it get filed 14 days after the end of the trial.

He claimed that there was jury misconduct because one juror ended up being his seamstress for the high-priced suits he paid for with cash at the Halls store. Wimes didn't buy it.

Wimes implored Hawkins to take a court-appointed attorney, but Hawkins wasn't interested. Interestingly, the one time during the whole criminal proceedings that Hawkins did use a lawyer, it worked for him. He used a court-appointed lawyer to represent him during the bond hearing after his conviction. That worked to buy him some time out of prison for a few months while he awaited sentencing.

A lawyer might have instructed Hawkins to show some remorse for his crimes, to perhaps score some points with the judge and get a few years shaved off his sentence. But an unrepentant Hawkins told a packed courtroom in Kansas City that he was an "advocate for the little guy" whose company would have soared into the corporate stratosphere but for the government asking pesky questions. He called investigations by the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and secretaries of state from both Missouri and Kansas a "smear campaign" by people "trying to ruin something they didn't understand."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Nelson said Hawkins could have spared himself three decades in prison if he had just shut Petro America down the first time he was told.

"He's just a con man, your honor," Nelson told Wimes. "He was told over and over and over by the government to stop, and he didn't stop."

Finally, Wimes seemed to have enough. He launched a long admonition directed toward Hawkins that verged on yelling and was coupled with wild gesticulations not often seen from a federal judge.

"The very thing you're trying to protect - the little man - you're destroying," Wimes said. "They're out of that money."

Prosecutors estimated about 12,000 investors were bilked. Hawkins protested. He said it was more like 5,400. Still, Hawkins thinks he has done nothing wrong. He indicated that Petro America is still a going concern that has a new CEO. It's unclear who that person might be, but Hawkins' associates still maintain that Petro America is the real deal. Just check out Martin Roper's hourlong video explaining "the real truth" behind the company.

Roper was also scheduled for sentencing on Tuesday.

[UPDATE 4:22 p.m.]
Roper was sentenced to 60 months in prison, the most he could get for the one count of conspiracy for which he was convicted. He gets to help Hawkins pay that $10.2 million in restitution. 

Co-defendant William Miller got tagged with 51 months in prison and $165,731 in restitution. Allen Collins gets to skip prison time following his guilty plea but will serve five years on probation and is on the hook for $186,074 in restitution.

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