June 07, 2016

RIP to Ponzi scheme grifter Aubrey McClendon (updated)

Aubrey McClendon
A day after being indicted by the feds for on oil and gas lease fraud, Chesapeake Energy founder and former CEO Aubrey McClendon is dead in a horrific one-vehicle accident that certainly looks like suicide by vehicle.

(Update 1, March 15: More proof on that end comes from OKC police. Per USA Today, he was traveling as high as 89mph, and after light brake-tapping, hit the embankment wall at 78mph, after suddenly veering left.

Update 2, June 7: In a narrowly circumscribed report, OKC police say now they can find no proof he intended to commit suicide. Yes, and absence of evidence isn't the same as evidence of absence.

Per the first update, the "barely tapping" on brakes looks suspicious, like a man trying to put a veneer over a suicide that would still let family inherit life insurance, pension, etc. See the lower part of the original piece, in the bullet points, for more on this.)

The indictment involved Chesapeake and an unnamed (for now?) company B allegedly involved in bid-rigging for federal oil and gas leases. That said, one of my newspaper peregrinations had me in the southwest corner of the Dallas side of the Metroplex, at the edge of the Barnett Shale. I've covered meetings of Chesapeake folks with local city councils. And blogged about its denialism on fracking earthquakes.

And, yeah, that fish rotted from the head down. He carried his Ponzi scheming (it was, as documented years ago) over to American Energy Partners. In light of this, I even wrote a Beverly Hillbillies spoof about Chesapeake.

As for the Ponzi scheme label?

No, he wasn't ripping off outsiders. But, it's related to what got him indicted. Both at Cheseapeake and AEP, he was essentially chasing new leases and new gas to pay for old after the success of fracking kneecapped him, kind of like Aaron Kutcher and newspapers at the Orange County Register. So, not Ponzi scheme in its conventional sense, perhaps, but I'll stand by use of the phrase. The fact that he had taken a personal stake in Chesapeake wells, then used that as a mix of loans collateral plus payment to himself for the cost of well-drilling, per the NYT, is an even more conventional Ponzi scheme.

EE News, in a long piece, has more about how he bubbled himself, then Ponzi-schemed his own company, then all of us (since We the People are the owners of federal lands).

So, I'll call him a Ponzi schemer. And laugh at his protestation of innocence, in hindsight. As Forbes notes, he didn't deny anything; he just boo-hooed about being singled out.

McClendon's totaled 2013 Tahoe.
First, a sidebar. This isn't the first case of suicide by vehicle that I've heard about. The first was in the city of my first media job, about a year after I moved. In that case, the person drove off an uncompleted ramp for a bridge for a new highway routing. Small town, construction had been going on; not likely to have been an accident, and there were arguably reasons for his decision. So, I have a bit of background in professionally understanding such things.

So, such things happen. And, the latest update on the accident makes clear that he intended to hit the embankment.

Why on this?

First, the mechanics of it possibly being suicide by vehicle?
  • One-vehicle accident
  • Very high rate of speed
  • Head-on collision with a very immovable object, a bridge abutment.
Second, the why?
  • He's under indictment, and thus avoids testifying. 
  • Because of that, the feds will find it harder to claw back money from his family than from him, since he never goes to trial.
  • And, because suicide by vehicle is hard to prove as suicide, family gets life insurance money, etc. And, given that he was still being paid by Chesapeake and still even covered by a Chesapeake life insurance policy, as well as any personal life insurance, etc., yes, his wife stands to get a bunch of money.
So, per lawyers?

"Goes to motive, your honor."

And, as follow up, on the legal angle:
  • Will the feds indict anybody else?
  • Will we learn the identity of "company B"?
  • If anybody is convicted, for manipulating oil and gas bids, will they get more than the 21 months of Tim DeChristopher?
And, will Gang Green enviros become any more repentant of their embrace of the gas business? That's as Russell Gold, though not as in-the-tank as in his 1-starred book, writes a largely laudatory paean which surprised me not one bit when I saw the name. The fact that Gold says the Department of Justice is about to dismiss the indictment without mentioning that's because you can't put dead people on trial, as if he's insinuating DOJ overreached, says enough.

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