Pennsylvania con artist on trial for Texas oil scam

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 04, 2014 1:00 AM

By Joe McDonald

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (Reuters) - A convicted scam artist went on trial in Pennsylvania on Wednesday charged with bilking investors out of $323,000 in a Texas oil development ruse that federal prosecutors say he ran out of his condominium in the Poconos.

Prosecutors say Richard Harley portrayed himself to potential investors as fabulously wealthy, falsely claiming he held hundreds of millions of dollars in bank instruments, $1 billion in Texas oil reserves and a collection of fine art.

While trolling the Internet for gullible victims of his phony investment scheme, Harley was actually scraping by on $500 a month in Social Security benefits, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler told jurors in opening statements.

"Unfortunately, there are people in our society who don't have common sense," Brandler said. "Mr. Harley preys on these type of people."

Harley is charged in a 23-count indictment with wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud, bank fraud and making false statements in a scheme that prosecutors said began in 1999 and played out over 13 years. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the more serious felony counts.

He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Joe O'Brien, reserved the right to deliver his opening statement after the prosecution rests its case.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, is expected to last two weeks.

Harley previously served five years in prison on a conviction for a scam in the 1990s in which he claimed to have discovered a cure for AIDS.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Paul Tait)