KANSAS CITY — A Kansas man who pitched his company to investors as a blessing from God that would make them rich for as little as $100 has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for bilking thousands of people out of more than $10 million.
Isreal Owen Hawkins, 58, of Kansas City, Kan., was convicted in May of conspiracy, securities fraud, aggravated currency structuring, money laundering and two counts of wire fraud in connection with his Missouri-based company, Petro America Corp. Hawkins was sentenced Monday.
Four other top company officials were convicted at the same 17-day trial, including Martin Roper who was sentenced Tuesday to five years and William Miller who got 51 months.
Top company pitchman Johnny Heurung, 59, of St. Paul, Minn., was to be sentenced Wednesday morning, while the company's main bookkeeper Teresa Brown, 55, of Bandera, Texas, has a Friday sentencing date. Prosecutors have recommended a 25-year sentence for Brown and 20 years for Heurung.
Hawkins founded Petro America in Kansas in 2007 and later moved its headquarters to Missouri where he rented a "virtual office" in a high-rise near Crown Center in Kansas City. He started selling unregistered stock to investors — many of them poor, elderly churchgoers — in 2008 at a cost of $100 per 100,000 shares, promising them that "book value" of the stock would be $2 per share when the company went public.
The company recruited investors through churches, whose pastors promoted Petro as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "share the blessing."
While Hawkins claimed his company had $284 million in oil well and mining interests, he couldn't afford an attorney and dismissed his public defender before trial, choosing instead to represent himself.