FERC assesses Coaltrain penalties

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

U.S. energy regulators have issued an order assessing $38 million in civil penalties for alleged energy market manipulation, plus disgorgement of unjust profits.

The case involves Coaltrain Energy, L.P., two of its individual owners, and three traders.  In January 2016, the Commission issued an Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty, alleging that the respondents had engaged in fraudulent transactions in PJM Interconnection L.L.C.'s energy markets.  The show cause order, and a supporting Enforcement Staff Report, also include allegations that Coaltrain made false and misleading statements and material omissions during the Commission's investigation. 

FERC's case against Coaltrain has now moved forward.  In a May 27 order, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that Coaltrain and five named individuals violated section 222 of the Federal Power Act and section 1c.2 of the Commission’s regulations, which prohibit energy market manipulation, through a scheme to engage in fraudulent Up-To Congestion (UTC) transactions to garner excessive amounts of certain credit payments to transmission customers. 

According to the Commission, the Coaltrain respondents engaged in UTC trading conduct "similar to the behavior the Commission found fraudulent in its Chen and City Power orders issued last year," in that the UTCs were traded "not to profit based on price spread arbitrage, as the product was designed, but instead, to profit solely or primarily from a transmission credit that had nothing to do with the underlying product."  FERC alleges that the Coaltrain respondents "designed and implemented a fraudulent UTC trading scheme to receive excessive amounts of MLSA payments," or Marginal Loss Supply Allocation transmission credits.  In the Commission's words, "Respondents’ OCL Trades were manipulative because they were executed for the sole or primary purpose of targeting and garnering MLSA payments. Additionally, they were manipulative because they falsely appeared to PJM as being placed for the market design purpose of arbitraging price spreads, thus concealing their fraudulent nature and purpose."

The Order Assessing Civil Penalties also found that Coaltrain violated section 35.41(b) of the Commission's regulations, which in relevant part, prohibits a seller, such as Coaltrain, from submitting false or misleading information to or omitting material information from Commission staff.  The Commission found that in the course of responding to an investigation by FERC Office of Enforcement staff, Coaltrain intentionally withheld relevant documents from Commission staff while repeatedly representing to that its productions were “true, complete, and accurate.”  In particular, FERC concluded that Coaltrain held back documents recorded on its Spector 360 keystroke logging software discussing and reflecting its trading strategy, and only produced the documents to the Commission after agency staff discovered the documents' existence on their own.

The May 27 order states that based on the "seriousness of these violations," it is appropriate to assess civil penalties pursuant to section 316A(b) of the Federal Power Act in the following amounts:
$26,000,000 against Coaltrain (jointly and severally with Messrs. Peter Jones and Sheehan); $5,000,000 against Mr. Peter Jones; $5,000,000 against Mr. Sheehan; $1,000,000 against Mr. Robert Jones; $500,000 against Mr. Miller; and $500,000 against Mr. Wells. The Commission further directs Coaltrain, Mr. Peter Jones, and Mr. Sheehan to disgorge, jointly and severally, unjust profits, plus applicable interest, pursuant to section 309 of the FPA, in the amount of $4,121,894.
The Commission directed the respondents to pay the civil penalties within 60 days, or else the Commission said it will commence an action in a United States district court for an order affirming the penalty.

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