U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Oct. 2 ordered Austin attorney Robert Allen Helms and his business partner, Janniece S. Kaelin, to pay $29 million in restitution to investors in the pair's oil-and-gas royalties scam.
Yeakel previously sentenced Helms and Kaelin to 78 months in federal prison.
The order of restitution is the full amount the government requested. Helms and Kaelin had asked Yeakel to order no more than $9.6 million in restitution.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Austin prosecuted Helms and Kaelin with the investigative assistance of the Texas State Securities Board; the FBI; and the U.S. Secret Service.
Helms and Kaelin raised approximately $30 million from more than 100 investors in Vendetta Royalty Partners Ltd., Iron Rock Royalty Partners LP, and related ventures.
To entice investors, Helms and Kaelin falsified documents that vastly inflated the worth of assets that Vendetta acquired in Texas counties and other states. That deception that was just one of a string of lies to gain the trust of investors.
Helms and Kaelin spent at least $9 million of investor money on purchases for themselves, friends, and family. They didn’t stint on luxury items, spending $600,000 on buying and remodeling houses, $400,000 for weddings, $500,000 for personal travels, and $300,000 on Helms’ collection of Mercedes-Benz and BMW vehicles.
Helms and Kaelin operated Vendetta and related companies as a Ponzi scheme by paying some investors their share of royalty payments with money from other investors.
Vendetta Royalty is currently in receivership. Investors are expected to be paid a small fraction of what they invested.