When oil and food prices shot up in 2007 on the heels of the global financial crisis, a new fad was born – biofuels. Biofuels were touted as the saviour of the world and investors seeking to explore new areas in renewables believed the fad, and then some conmen and women saw an open door to make some free money, Jack Holden was one of them.
In 2008 he claimed to be cultivating five million acres of land in Ghana planting Jatropha to produce biofuels for export, and many believed him.
Apparently, Holden who ran Gold Star Farms with his Ghanaian wife, Diana Holden and daughter, Erica Holden as executives was duping investors and spending the money on himself in Ghana, a jury in Oregon, Portland, in the US found him guilty in October 2015 for his role in what the court described as a transnational fraud scheme that bilked a group of Portlanders, all hoping to cash in on the last decade’s biodiesel wave, of more than $1 million, local news sources reported.
Holden was subsequently sentenced in May 2016 by US District Judge, Anna J. Brown, to seven years and three months in prison after he was convicted of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to commit both offenses following a three-week trial in federal court, and was asked to pay back $1.4 million to his victims.
According to the Oregonian, the judge knew Holden had been convicted in another fraud scheme two decades ago in which he cheated people who invested in used clothing, rare wood products and pineapple concentrate.
The report further noted that Holden and co-defendant Lloyd Benton Sharp, also known as Kevin Thomas, 81, together defrauded 12 people who invested in a project to produce biodiesel fuel in Ghana.
“When the project failed, the two men duped the investors into providing additional funds to support non-existent projects to transport biodiesel fuel from Argentina to Chile, and to build biodiesel refineries in Chile, according to prosecutors,” the report said.
According to the US Attorney’s office, Holden and Sharp falsely told investors:
- $350,000 was needed to set up a biodiesel plant in Ghana, purchase feedstock for the plant, and bring in an engineer to oversee the operation.
- The Ghana refinery would be up and running within two months of receiving the investment funds.
- Investors who made a $50,000 investment would receive a return of $7,000 per month for an indefinite period of time as soon as the biodiesel refinery was operational.
- Their investments would help fund humanitarian projects, like building roads and schools in the poor nation of Ghana.
- They could get 100 percent of their money back at any time.
“Instead, Holden and Sharp spent the money they received via mail or interstate wire transfers on personal expenses, according to federal prosecutors. The two co-defendants targeted a Christian’s men’s group in West Linn.
Between the Ghana and Chile projects, 12 investors lost approximately $1.47 million,” the report added.
Sharp, 81, was sentenced in April 2015 to five years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
The proponents of biofuels in Ghana took advantage of every opportunity to highlight the benefits of the product as the renewable energy of the times, as oil prices went up and options were being sought at that time. But they suddenly went quiet, even after most of them have taken land away from subsistence farmers around the country with the connivance of local chiefs and state institutions to plant crops for biofuels.
Sugar cane and mostly the non-food crop Jatropha were touted as the best renewable energy sources in Ghana. Meanwhile, in all the drama, only one company managed to produce some appreciable amount of biofuel. The company, Biofuel Africa announced in October 2009 that it had produced 10 tons of biodiesel from Jatropha.
An official of Biofuel Africa, Ove Martin Kolnes told ghanabusinessnews.com on the telephone at that time, that the company produced 10 tons of biodiesel, about 50 barrels from its plantations in Ghana. He said the production was realized from 650 hectares of the plant.
These companies have suddenly gone under, after planting corn for sometime.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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