May 28, 2014

Former Oil Company Human Resources Manager Sentenced to More Than Four Years in Prison for $700,000 Embezzlement and Tax Crimes

TULSA, OK—United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Danny C. Williams, Sr. announced today that United States District Court Judge James H. Payne sentenced James Rhea Cooley, a former Regional Human Resource Manager for Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent Inc., a Houston, Texas-based oil and gas company with offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to serve 55 months in federal prison for wire fraud involving the embezzlement of $696,000 from that company and tax fraud for failure to report that stolen income resulting in unpaid taxes of $226,089. Additionally, Cooley was ordered to pay $595,107.46 in restitution to Newfield’s insurance company, Federal Insurance; $105,049.86 to Newfield; $70,300 to ConAgra Foods; and $226,089 to the IRS. An anonymous tipster called the company’s ethics hotline to report Cooley. This prompted an internal investigation leading to a joint FBI and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation probe of these crimes.

James Rhea Cooley, 45, of Tulsa, was charged by criminal information on August 26, 2013, with one-count of wire fraud and three counts of willfully making and subscribing a false federal income tax return. He pleaded guilty on November 19, 2013, to one count of wire fraud and one count of willfully making and subscribing a false federal income tax return. Cooley worked as the Regional Human Resources Manager at the Tulsa office of Newfield, where he was authorized to approve invoices for services provided to the company.

According to court documents filed in the case, from August 2008 to January 2011, Cooley devised and executed a scheme to defraud his then-employer Newfield. In 2008, the defendant created the fictitious consulting company, Total HR Service and Consulting, created a website and opened a bank account for that company. Cooley would then falsify invoices for services that had not been performed, submit them to Newfield, and deposit the payment check from Newfield into the fraudulent consulting company’s bank account. Cooley would then spend the embezzled funds for personal expenses that included jewelry, airline tickets, and a Mexican condominium.

In imposing the sentence, Judge Payne also considered additional relevant criminal conduct of Cooley in shaping Cooley’s sentence. After being terminated for the false invoice scheme at Newfield in February 2011, Cooley obtained a similar job with ConAgra Corporation in Council Bluff, Iowa, where he committed the very same crime. ConAgra losses totaled approximately $70,000. This second crime occurred from April 2012 until September 2012, after Cooley had already admitted the Newfield fraud to federal investigators and was supposedly cooperating with them.

As part of his sentence, a criminal forfeiture money judgment was entered against Cooley to provide restitution for the victims. The criminal forfeiture money judgment is in the amount of $693,300. The case was a joint investigation by the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Charles M. McLoughlin and Catherine Depew prosecuted on behalf of the United States.