Herschel “Tress” Knippa III, a Dallas, Texas resident, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The former registered broker, who owned a commodities trading firm, was implicated over fraudulent market rigging involving ForceField Energy Inc. (FNRG), which was a supposed global distributor and provider of LED lighting products and solutions. Investors lost $131M because of the scam.
According to court filings and facts submitted at the plea hearing, between 1/2009 and 4/2015, Knippa and others worked together to bilk those who invested in ForceField. The conspirators artificially manipulated the price and volume of ForceField shares by 1) using nominees to buy and sell the stock but without disclosing this to investors and potential investors, 2) manipulating ForceField stock trading to make it seem as if there was real interest and genuine trading volume, and 3) hiding payments made to brokerage firms and stock promoters that marketed and sold the stock.
All the while, Knippa and others claimed that ForceField was an independent company. Also, they used disposable prepaid cell phones, encrypted message applications to communicate, and paid kickbacks in cash.