Closing arguments delayed in Petro America trial

Bill Draper, Associated Press
May 14, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Three weeks after the start of a securities fraud trial involving a Kansas City company whose leaders are accused of bilking unsophisticated investors out of millions of dollars, closing arguments that were supposed to begin Monday were pushed back a day because of problems with jury instructions.

U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes told jurors Monday afternoon that he had anticipated closing arguments would begin that morning and be finished before the end of the day, but jury instructions weren't finished in time to allow that to happen. Instead, closing arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Five people, including Petro America Corp. founder and president Isreal Owen Hawkins, are facing federal conspiracy and other charges accusing them of illegally selling stock in the company, which they touted as having assets of $284 billion.

Prosecutors contend the company's stock is worthless, that millions of shares were sold to people who weren't financially qualified to purchase them, and that none of the company leaders who sold the stock were licensed to do so.

Hawkins, of Kansas City, Kan., founded Petro America in 2007 in Kansas and began selling stock the next year, promising investors huge returns on even the most modest of investments. He has been representing himself in the trial, with his public defender at his side as backup for the duration.

Hawkins is accused of enlisting the help of local ministers, who pitched the company to members of their congregations — many of whom were poor and elderly folks who couldn't afford to sustain a loss — as a blessing from God. Prosecutors said the company conned investors out of $7.2 million.