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Energy

How a ConocoPhillips employee’s alleged $7 million scheme unraveled

  • Author: Aubrey Wieber
  • Updated: December 17, 2019
  • Published December 16, 2019

An anonymous tipster led ConocoPhillips’ security manager to look into a $4 million order from an Oklahoma-based company with an Alaska business license.

The tip started an investigation into then-employee Forrest Wright. From there, an alleged scheme to defraud ConocoPhillips quickly unraveled.

Those details are key pieces in the narrative ConocoPhillips laid out for U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in a newly released motion seeking to freeze the assets of Wright, Anchorage police officer Nathan Keays, two women believed to be the men’s wives and a man believed to be Wright’s father-in-law. ConocoPhillips is suing all five, accusing them of running a scheme from February to October.

ConocoPhillips says Wright used his position in the company to push fraudulent work orders for family and friends, bilking the company out of millions. Three days before Wright proposed DB Oilfield Support Services as a vendor, the allegedly fictitious company got an Alaska business license.

One day before, Wright worked to get a website set up for the company, ConocoPhillips alleges in the lawsuit.

The FBI is also investigating but hasn’t filed criminal charges. The civil suit asserts the five defendants ran afoul of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Summonses in the civil suit were issued Monday to all parties being sued. They have 21 days to respond.

Gleason’s order to freeze assets references an affidavit from ConocoPhillips’ security manager, Jeff Laughlin, detailing the alleged racketeering. Gleason approved the request to freeze the assets of the Wrights, Keayses, the companies involved in the alleged scheme and the assets of DB Oilfield, which is run by David Benefield, believed to be Wright’s father-in-law.

Forrest Wright is a former senior drilling and wells planner with ConocoPhillips, and was authorized to propose vendors for the company, the complaint says. He could request materials and services for purchase.

According to the civil lawsuit, he is accused of working with the woman believed to be wife, Amanda Wright, to defraud the company. Forrest Wright resigned Dec. 5, according to court documents.

After proposing fraudulent invoices for millions of dollars in goods and services, Forrest and Amanda Wright created Wright Capital Investments in Nevada in July and transferred money into the company’s account, according to court documents. The couple then bought $4 million worth of real estate in Las Vegas, court documents allege.

Harold Heinze, former CEO of Arco Alaska, a predecessor of ConocoPhillips, said buying millions in pipe that is never delivered is a scheme that lacks sophistication and will likely be noticed.

“That person wasn’t thinking about what was going to happen here,” he said. "That gets caught.”

Laughlin, the security manager, also discovered work orders Forrest Wright proposed with a company called Eco Edge Armoring, LLC. The complaint says that company is owned by Nathan and Kelly Keays. Kelly Keays’ lawyer, Jeffrey Robinson, said she is not an owner of the company but did not answer further questions. Kelly Keays was contacted by a reporter after the complaint was filed and declined to comment.

Nathan Keays was placed on paid administrative leave by the police department on Thursday, pending an internal investigation.

Heinze said in his time with Arco, he worked with the police department to arrest employees who stole. He was disheartened to learn of an officer’s alleged involvement, saying the police department serves a crucial role in investigating white collar crime in a city that’s the Alaska hub for several large industrial companies.

“If there is a place where white collar crime is going to be committed, it’s here,” he said.

Based on social media, it appears as though the Wrights and Keayses know each other. The men grew up in Fairbanks and the women in North Pole, according to their Facebook profiles. When reached by Facebook Messenger on Friday, Kelly Keays declined comment on behalf of her and her husband.

According to court documents, Forrest Wright said that the pipes he ordered from DB Oilfield were delivered to Fairbanks. However, when Laughlin contacted a supervisor at the Fairbanks rail yard, he was informed that the pipes had not arrived.

Forrest Wright also worked with Nathan Keays to obtain orders for Eco Edge, according to court documents. Eco Edge was supposed to be doing inspections and selling ConocoPhillips 11,000 feet of pipe at a low price.

According to court documents, ConocoPhillips accuses Wright of using a fake email thread with Pat Hanley, the president of Cal IV Pipe, an Alaska company that has existed since 2017, to convince colleagues at ConocoPhillips to approve the Eco Edge order. In the fake email, Hanley quoted a higher price.

The civil complaint says that on April 14, Nathan Keays and Forrest Wright emailed about Eco Edge selling 11,000 feet of 22-inch pipe made by Sumitomo Corporation to ConocoPhillips. Sumitomo does not make those pipes, according to the civil complaint.

ConocoPhillips’ account was enough to get Gleason to approve freezing the accused parties’ assets.

“The Court finds that ConocoPhillips is likely to succeed on the merits of this action and obtain a judgment ordering a return of their funds,” Gleason wrote.

Heinze said there will always be the temptation to embezzle from Alaska’s large oil companies. When it happens, companies need to make an example out of the bad actors.

“The way you discourage people from even thinking about that … is to land with both feet on someone’s neck,” he said.


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