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NJ Bureau of Securities sues Princeton couple for allegedly defrauding members of their social circle through investment scams (updated)

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The New Jersey Bureau of Securities has filed a lawsuit against a Princeton couple alleging that the pair schemed to fraudulently sell investments in gas and oil projects to members of their social circle in the local community. The couple allegedly spent a significant portion of the investor funds on luxury vacations, country club payments, and other personal expenses.

Ford F. Graham, 55, a 1986 alumnus of Princeton University, allegedly raised more than $5 million through a series of loans and fraudulent sales of unregistered securities from unsuspecting individuals and investors located in at least five states, including fraudulently selling at least $1.9 million of unregistered securities to New Jersey investors.

At least three Princeton residents were among investors from at least five states who gave money to Graham and his companies.

In February of 2018, Graham, signed a consent judgment in the case, but then allegedly never followed through with the conditions that were stipulated.

Graham is the son of John J. Graham, one of the figures at the center of the Prudential Bache/Graham Resources scandal of the 1980s that was chronicled in the book “Serpent on the Rock,” written by New York Times best-selling author Kurt Eichenwald. At the time, the scandal was one of the largest to ever have hit Wall Street, with allegations that 340,000 investors had been defrauded out of $8 billion. Ford Graham and Katherine Graham both earned law degrees at Tulane University.

The lawsuit against Graham, his wife, and some of his business entities, filed in Mercer County Superior Court on Tuesday, alleges that between January of 2012 and January of 2014, Graham — often with the active participation of his wife, Katherine B. Graham — represented the unregistered securities to potential investors as low-risk, high-reward investment opportunities in gas and oil projects. But instead the couple allegedly misappropriated investors’ money for personal expenditures, transferred it to joint accounts in their names, used it to repay prior investors, and withdrew the funds in cash.

“Ford Graham and his wife allegedly used their social connections in the affluent Princeton community to lure investors into a Ponzi scheme that financed the defendants’ posh lifestyle of country clubs, private schools, and tropical vacations,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “The bureau’s action today seeks to hold the defendants accountable for their actions and require them to return the ill-gotten funds to defrauded investors.”

Some neighbors and Princeton University alumni who are friends with Graham and his wife have reacted to the accusations with disbelief on social media and in comments. They say the couple would never act the way the lawsuit alleges because the Grahams are upstanding citizens who have coached sports teams, led Boy Scout troops, and contributed to the community in other ways.

The suit alleges that Graham and his wife, residents of Prospect Avenue, violated the state’s Uniform Securities Law by making false and misleading statements to investors in connection with the offer and sale of unregistered securities issued by Graham’s companies, including: Specialty Fuels Americas, LLC; Aries Energy Group Venture, LLC; CCC Holdings, LLC; and Rattler Partners, LLC. The suit alleges that the couple schemed to defraud investors, and unjustly enrich themselves with investor funds.  Graham also acted as an unregistered agent in New Jersey.

Graham operated his limited liability companies in Alabama and Delaware. Four of the Delaware companies had their registrations canceled by the secretary of state for Delaware for failure to pay taxes, according to the lawsuit.

The unregistered securities sold by Graham and his companies included promissory notes, a purchase agreement for certain interests, and a profit participation agreement, according to the lawsuit.

Despite Graham’s representations that investor funds would be spent on specific oil and gas projects, he instead transferred the funds between the bank accounts of the different entities and a fifth company he controlled—Vulcan Energy International, L.L.C., according to the lawsuit.

A significant portion of the funds allegedly were then used to pay previous investors in a Ponzi scheme.  The Grahams allegedly also used these funds for personal expenses, including: an Antigua vacation, payments to the couple’s country club, payments to their child’s summer camp and private school, purchases at upscale department stores, and numerous cash withdrawals.

“Investors who put up money were led to believe it was being invested in legitimate projects guaranteed to return a profit, but that was a lie,” said Paul Rodríguez, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will not allow the defendants’ lies and deceit to go unchecked, nor will we allow New Jersey investors to be exploited in such an egregious manner.”

The complaint alleges that Graham and his wife used social connections in Princeton to drum up sales in his scam investments, promising prospective investors up to twenty percent returns on their funds.

In January of 2013, Graham raised at least $1.5 million from one Princeton resident from the offer and sale of a security in the form of a four-percent, convertible secured promissory note, according to the lawsuit. Graham allegedly told the investor his company sought to purchase a controlling interest in Specialty Fuels Bunkering, a ship bunkering and fuel distribution company operating out of the Gulf of Mexico. The Grahams allegedly said they would invest another $500,000 of their own money to purchase a 52 percent interest in Specialty Fuels Bunkering, which allegedly had a $7 million to $9 million claim against British Petroleum deriving from a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Princeton investor was allegedly told by Graham that he would be entitled to 22.3 percent of the claim, which would provide an almost immediate return on the investment.

The investor wired the money to Graham, who then allegedly used some of the money to pay a second Princeton investor, and pay for personal expenses. Some funds were transferred to other bank accounts, including his mother-in-law’s bank account, according to the lawsuit. The suit claims that: $24,660 was withdrawn as cash from banks and ATMs; $1,765 was spent at retailers, including a department store, a hardware store, and a liquor store; an additional $376,882 was transferred from the SFA bank account to the VEI bank account; and $90,940 was transferred to Katherine Graham’s bank account and used for personal expenses. The expenses included: $16,945 paid to the Carlisle Bay··Resort in Antigua; $6,316 paid to the Bedens Brook Club where Graham and Katherine Graham were members; $3,000 paid to a summer camp; $400 paid to the private school where the Grahams’ child was a student; $3,127 spent at retailers, including Neiman Marcus, Blue Mercury, and Williams Sonoma; $12,736 withdrawn as cash from banks and ATMs; $6, 657 spent at retailers, including $1,331 at liquor stores.

Between June 2012 and May 2013, Graham allegedly raised $140,000 from the fraudulent offer and sale of three unregistered securities in the form of promissory notes to another Princeton resident. Graham sold two unsecured promissory notes totaling $40,000. The Dominican notes guaranteed an annual return of six percent, with the option to convert the notes into a profit participation interest in SFA’ s “Dominican Republic Oil Transaction.”

According to the state, $15,000 was deposited into the SFA bank account, and was then transferred to the VEI bank account, where: $2,294 was applied to the overdrawn balance in the VEI bank account; $3,217 was transferred to Graham and Katherine Graham’s joint investment account; $2,000 was transferred to the personal bank accounts of Graham’s business associate and his wife; $460 was used toward purchases at a liquor store; $503 was withdrawn at ATMs; and $40 was made in debit card purchases at Princeton University.

In April of 2013, the second investor received a payment of $30,000 from the SFA bank account. The money was a purported “deal payment” for the June SFA Dominican Note. But according to the state, the payment did not come from profits generated by the Dominican Republic oil transaction. Instead Graham used funds from the other Princeton investor’s purchase to pay the second investor.

After the April payment was made, Graham allegedly approached the second investor and requested that he ask his wealthy friends to invest in Graham’s projects. Encouraged by the return on the Dominican Note, the investor was eager to keep investing with Graham, and told others in the Princeton area about the investments he believed were successful. In October, the investor invested another $25,000 in a second Dominican note. According to the state, Graham transferred $10,000 of the money to his personal account and a business associate’s account. He allegedly transferred $14,900 of the investor’s money to the VEI bank account and used it to pay for his child’s private school tuition.

In May of 2013, Graham allegedly sold a purportedly “secured” promissory note to the same investor for $1000,000. The note guaranteed an annual interest rate of 20 percent. The investor allegedly was told the money would be used to build a tank, and that $120,000 would be returned to him within a year and four days.

According to the state, the $100,000 from the sale of the Tank note was deposited into the SFA bank account, which had a balance of $302 before the money was credited to the account. More than $68,000 allegedly was used as follows, according to the lawsuit: At least $20, 000 was transferred to a VEI bank account, where at least $7,220 of the $20,000 was used for a $1,773 purchase at a gun and outdoor clothing retailer; $5,446 was withdrawn in cash and used-to pay nominal bank fees; 50,000 was wired to the personal bank account of one of Graham’s business associates; $3, 217 was wired to Katherine Graham’s personal bank account; and and $7,600 was withdrawn in cash.

In November of 2013, the investor received a payment of about $2,027 from ·the SFA bank account. The payment was purported “interest” on ‘the SFA Tank note. According to the state, the source of the funds Graham used for the payment came from a loan made by the other Princeton investor in October of 2013, and not money generated from SFA’s business operations.

In May of 2013, Graham allegedly sold the second investor a six-percent convertible unsecured promissory note for $50,000. In June he sold a third Princeton investor a three-percent convertible unsecured promissory note issued for $20,000. According to the lawsuit, he claimed that both investors’ funds would be used to fund a purported oil transaction between his company and a state-owned Nigerian oil company.

In May of 2013, the second investor wired $50,000 to Graham’s AEG bank account. At the time of the deposit, the balance of the bank account was about $102. According to the state, within days of the investor’s deposit, $40,000 was transferred to the VEI bank account and then immediately transferred to a Nigerian bank account in the name of another entity named Vulcan Minerals & Power Limited for “business checking expenses Nigeria.” The remaining $10,000 of the $50,000 investment was transferred to the SFA bank account, which had a balance of about $19,912 from the same investor’s prior $100, 000 investment in the SFA Tank note. Graham then allegedly wired $25,000 from the account to a law firm’s trust account for an entity unrelated to the Nigerian oil transaction. In November of 2013, the investor received a payment of about $304 from the SFA bank account that was purportedly interest on the six-percent note. In reality the source of the funds Graham used for the payment came from a loan made to SFA by the first Princeton investor in October of 2013, according to the lawsuit.

Following his investment, the second investor inquired with Graham about the status of his investment in the Nigerian oil transaction. According to the state, his questions were met with “excuses and unfulfilled promises of imminent payment.”

In June if 2013, the third Princeton investor wired $20,000 to the AEG bank account for the purchase of the three-percent note. At the time of the deposit, the balance of the AEG bank account was about $30, according to the state. By the next day, $19,750 of the $20,000 allegedly was wired to the VEI bank account, which only had a balance of $315 before the money was credited to the account. According to the lawsuit, at least $6,343 was withdrawn as cash from the bank and ATMs, and at least $648 was spent at retailers, including PetSmart and Target. When the investor asked questions about his investment, he allegedly gave excuses and unfulfilled promises of “imminent payment.”

In November of 2013, Graham raised another $100,000 from the second investor for “Project Delta.” Graham said his company would purchase slightly imperfect gasoline from BP and sell it to buyers within the United States. The investors’ money allegedly would be used to purchase the gasoline, prepay shipping, and set up storage for the gasoline. The company would set aside 50 percent of the profits from the gas sales to be divided among investors, with total profits of about two to three times the invested capital.

The $100, 000 from the investor for Project Delta was deposited into the AEG bank account, where, according to the lawsuit, it was co-mingled with an additional $200,000 that the same investor wired on the same day to help manage cash flow issues for Project Delta, a projected called the “Rattler Project” and a third project. The Rattler Project, a purported oil and gas drilling operation in Pennsylvania, allegedly was backed by a highly successful, retired oil trader. The oil trader allegedly guaranteed a 100-percent return of capital to investors. But according to the lawsuit, $100,000 was used to cover AEG’s overdrawn account, and $10, 000 was wired from the AEG bank account to the VEI bank account, where: $4,818 was withdrawn at ATMs; $433 was spent at restaurants and shops; $226 was spent at gas stations during a college tour in Virginia; and $343 was spent at colleges and universities. Later in November, $107,500 from the AEG bank account was transferred to the SFA bank account, and the investor received $100,000 from the SFA bank account as a return of the November loan. The funds originated from the $300,000 that the same investor had transferred to AEG earlier that month, according to the lawsuit.

The second investor who invested in several of the alleged projects had a long-standing personal relationship with Graham and his wife before investing in any of the alleged businesses, according to the lawsuit. The investor met with Graham and his wife in their kitchen several times to discuss investment opportunities. According to the lawsuit, Katherine Graham was present for all but one of these meetings, and assisted Graham in stoking the investor’s interest in the investment opportunities by acting as a cheerleader for each of Graham’s projects. She allegedly encouraged him to invest by claiming the securities were safe and reliable, that she was going to invest her personal funds and inheritance in the projects, and that time was of the essence — or the investor would miss an opportunity to make money.

In February of 2018, Graham, who represented himself in the case, signed a consent judgment. He agreed he would not issue, sell, promote or offer any securities or investment advice in New Jersey until he complied with a subpoena and the state completed its investigation. He also agreed to produce various documents. But he then failed to produce any of the documents the state had requested, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks restitution for investors, the imposition of civil penalties, and a permanent injunction against Graham and his companies from working in the state’s securities industry in any capacity.

State officials say the case should be a reminder to people to scrutinize investment opportunities, even when they are offered by friends.

“Investors tend to lower their guard when someone they know socially or professionally offers them an opportunity to invest in a ‘sure thing,’ as happened here,” said Christopher Gerold, chief of the New Jersey Bureau of Securities. “But this case illustrates the importance of thoroughly vetting the person offering the investment, and the investment itself, before handing over your hard-earned money.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

44 Comments

  1. The long history here all started when the courts ruled Iraq should not pay Graham’s millions in invoices for contracts that were acquired as a result of bribes by Graham. Judges in TX, CA, NY, NJ, and others have ruled funds invested with Graham dissappear without any explanation or record. The tall house of cards is now tumbling down for all to see. #WizardOfOz

  2. Mr. Kahn — I don’t know Ford or Katherine very well, but I do know them well enough to say that what you say is very true. They are kind hearted and very generous. Their house is very modest and they lead a simple life. All of your statements about their volunteering and donations are quite correct.

    I also know that rumors about similar business dealings have been circulating for some time. Several people whom I also trust have hinted at the kind of problems outlined in the legal filing. Perhaps both are true? I certainly hope it’s only the good part.

  3. Chris, I appreciate your support for your friend. But most of what you posted does not answer the allegations in the complaint. Nevertheless, if you are who you say you are and you want to put your message out there, you should contact the reporter and tell your side of the story as a character witness for Ford and Katherine (who is facing charges as well).

  4. To Donzoab: Part 1 of response

    Thank you for the comment. It’s nice to see someone use their real name here and takes an analytical approach. Again, until all the facts are in, I think we all need to hold judgement. Certainly we have not heard all the facts and I do know there are 2 sides to every story. Only one set of facts have been presented and we do not know if they are accurate or if they are the work of a politically motivated smear campaign by two disgruntled investors.

    My piece was intended to counter some references that Ford was dishonest or dishonorable (as many of the anonymous haters all have claimed). The man I know was more than honorable and took money from his own pocket to pay for things he did not have to (security, insurance, replacement parts, air transport) in order to meet the customer’s and his worker’s needs. Ford obligated himself in paying large sums for security in Iraq (larger than his competitors) and all his workers came home alive. That is honorable. When I read the Sourcewatch line from Mr. Anonymous, what jumped out at me is a commonality where someone bought a product…then later had financial hardship. I just can see how if I get my car worked on at the dealer and later lose my job…that it was the dealer’s fault, but that is the inference by some of the commenters. That may seem like an odd example but try to see what I mean. there are two parties to every deal. I sell my services as a consultant in war ton areas. Perhaps some of my clients have suffered financial failures and went out of business…I hope not but it may have happened. Was it my fault? I can’t see how. Anyone who invests money in Ford’s projects in Alaska, or Nigeria, or Bangladesh or Iraq; or in any other field even in the US that is exploratory, cutting edge, innovative or “new tech” should definitely be able to lose the money and not run crying home to the state to complain about it.

  5. Ahhhh—-A simple google search of Graham or his companies will tell you this is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope the reporter keeps pursuing this story.

  6. “The truth may be puzzling.
    It may take some work to grapple with.
    It may be counter intuitive.
    It may contradict deeply held prejudices.
    It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true.

    But our preferences do not determine what’s true.”

    Carl Sagan

  7. Dear Liz.

    Read my post again. In no way did I advocate slavery. I pointed out a unconventional leader who by using then historically acceptable methods, created a vision still in use today.

    What I said is that he EXPLOITED MINORITIES and basically got away with it. I never said it is right and in fact think it is despicable and an exploitation of people who had already suffered enough. As cheap labor they were beaten and even summarily killed. I am saying that Ford has done projects (Like in Iraq) that had never been done before.

    We…America…when there and did a job without any idea what would be needed. For example a well known contractor hauled fuel from Kuwait to Baghdad with no idea of how many trucks were going to be blown up, how much product would be lost. Meals were served with no idea how many people (contractors included) would be fed. They were paid on “COST PLUS” terms. Ford was paid a fixed price and when conditions such as security ran 10 or 15 times what was estimated, he paid and paid until he had nothing left to give. Then he asked for credit terms which he became obligated for. that’s all…I would never say what you accused me of. Then again that’s common here.

    You seem to miss the point about FCPA. Ford’s company is not building more power plants in Iraq and Nigeria because he WOULD NOT pay bribes. Other firms (including household names) paid bribes and took over Ford’s jobs.

    I am not a mark, nor do I work for a mark, but thank you for making the accusation without proof…just like all the other accusations on this site, it seems. I know the man and it appears no one else who has put their name here does. What I know of him tells me he has not done what everyone has already convicted him of doing. Lets string him up. no need to see any evidence, right?

    But Liz..you seem like an intelligent woman. I hopoe I’ve made myself clear

  8. Jack,

    Sorry, I should have further noted your suggestion of a sentencing. They do not do “sentencing” in civil matters.

  9. Jack,
    I think you may have your terminology mixed up. You correctly note this is a civil matter. I cannot speak for the State of New Jersey of course but one reason could be the evidence they have would not pass the test of “beyond a shadow of a doubt” and so they will attempt to show a “preponderance” or in other words, just try to tip the scale of justice enough to get the needle to move. Even the SEC (who is not involved in this matter) uses civil suits in a lot of its enforcement actions.

    As for your assumption that you know more than has been revealed by the State, Managers of investments are compensated. They do not work for free. Perhaps it is the manner in which the accounting entries were made. no one knows at this time. Lets wait for the court to reveal more. Meanwhile shouldn’t we abide by our own Constitution: innocent until proven guilty?

  10. Harvey Howard
    Where did you come up with “criminal”?
    This is the kind of INTENTIONAL MISINFORMATION that is actually crossing the line of slander. I know of no time Mr Graham has been convicted of a criminal offense.

    If you are referring to the action taken by the State of New Jersey, please note it is a civil suit not a criminal charge. There is no indication that a criminal act has taken place.

    You may want to delete your post out of honest misunderstanding. You have exposed yourself to a law suit I believe, though I am not a lawyer.

  11. The inner circle of P’ Town refers to Mrs. Graham as The Saint Katherine for putting up with and surviving the antics of Mr. Graham. Thrown his saint of a bride under the bus for his sins will not go well in the society of Princeton.

  12. With such clear evidence of investor fraud and theft. Why is this a civil matter and not a federal or state criminal matter? There must be something else to this horrendous tale of deceit.

  13. The past good deeds and loving friends and business associates only come into play at the sentencing part of the court action. There are clear facts that somehow the defendants repeatatly looted the corporate check books to pay for personal needs. Then the defendents when to great lengths to hide the wrong doing.
    And

  14. Also @ChrisSpidle:
    “I can say I see no difference in Ford Graham and pioneers of the past who also were cutting edge and controversial such as Durant who built the transcontinental railroad. Had he tried it today he would surely fail. He exploited cheap Chinese labor, virtually re-enslaved newly freed slave labor after the Civil War… ”

    You just literally just said slavery is ok in service of a grand vision in defense of this guy. Seriously dude, I think you’re the commentary gift that keeps on giving, but I bet Graham wishes you’d stop. If you are actually posting this stuff in earnest, I wonder if you can’t accept the idea of having been a mark yourself, or having worked in service of fleecing marks.

  15. @Chris Spidle:
    “In the end, the Nigerians struggling for power during an election cycle and started squeezing Ford for payoffs…”
    Your timeline is unclear regarding Graham’s refusals, certainly given the article’ reporting of transfers to Nigeria. Congratulations on opening up a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act line of inquiry. If you aren’t Ford Graham, you should really stop trying to defend him – you’re not helping.

  16. To Anonymous #1: My name is Chris Spidle. I run a successful international business. I’ve spent the last 15 years helping small local businesses become more stable and able to increase employment to increase stability in the community in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Africa. (BTW, I never would have even considered such work had it not been for my opportunity to go to Iraq for Ford)…just one more good thing he has done.

    I humbly state that I was acknowledged by a US Ambassador for “countering violent extremism through the use of business principles”

    I am real.
    Who are you and why are you hiding?

  17. Mr. Spidle, did you invest in the Pennsylvania oil project with 100% returns promised? Did you invest any precious funds with Ford and Kitty? You’re lucky you got paid for any work you did. Like his father, Ford milked millions from investors and left them high and dry. Case closed.

  18. Chris. That was a very interesting piece you wrote. None of it explains why Mr Ford moved money to his personal accounts, paid school tuition with investors funds and or all the rest of the SEC claim of fraud. Visionary’s sometimes run into financial problems as your piece clearly indicates happened here. Sometimes they then defraud their investors. I’m interested in seeing how this one plays out.

  19. I read a list of alleged “Ford” problems issued by the anonymous commenters. In each one I see that a company that bought something from Ford or hired his company to provide something. Then THAT company lost money and went out of business. That doesn’t seem logical. Maybe Speedy wants to say that they failed because of Ford. But I think they would have always told you prior to the deal what a well-managed company they were. If so, then why did they fail? There are always two sides to the story. Example: The BGT story that Speedy posted. BGT supplied an initial deposit for equipment for Ford’s company to construct power units for Arkansas Power Cooperative, but then BGT breached their contract by not paying and failing to deliver equipment under the terms of the contract. BGT also delivered incorrect equipment (an air flow elbow pointing the wrong direction) and when confronted with this, BGT’s solution would have killed someone operating the equipment. Ford’s Company canceled the project with BGT, after BGT provided stolen GE drawings and claimed that this was what Ford’s company was to build for Arkansas Power (Speedy would you build a plant with stolen drawings?). Finally, BGT’s lawsuit against Ford’s company was dismissed – that says it all.

    How do I know this? Because it is in the public record and I know the guys at Ford’s plant who were building the unit. So please get the real facts if you are going to post things about Ford.
    Ford is not unlike many other visionaries who are and were ahead of their time. He has the intelligence to put a deal together; the enthusiasm to get it started and the ability to see it through. What, in my opinion, has held him back is rookie investors who want to make a fast buck and are willing to take enormous risks that are obvious in these deals (until the deal goes bad). Iraq Power? Bangladesh coal/power? Nigeria power/oil? Clean coal? Nitrogen free fertilizer? Alaska oil? Reclaimed oil? With large returns must come risk
    .
    What I see in the criticism here is someone hiding behind a stupid made up name to protect his identity. Anonymous? Speedy Gonzales? Haters, hindsight regreters, flamers. My mother (RIP) always told me that when I had a problem and was looking for someone to point the finger at…all I needed to do was look in the mirror. Get real if you want to be taken seriously. If you have something to say and are not willing to put your name on it…it is invalid. I may take some heat here from the flamers, but I don’t care. I know Ford works on the cutting edge of technology and is famous for unusual deals. Some work, some do not. Who in the real world does not know that?

    I can say I see no difference in Ford Graham and pioneers of the past who also were cutting edge and controversial such as Durant who built the transcontinental railroad. Had he tried it today he would surely fail. He exploited cheap Chinese labor, virtually re-enslaved newly freed slave labor after the Civil War and was helped tremendously by an upcoming politician named Lincoln. The jury is still out on Musk and his rockets with dreams of Mars, boring tunnels and trying to figure out how to make as many Tesla cars as he tells the stock market he will make. He crashed his own stock and bought a bunch back then made it go up again. He may or may not succeed with his rockets and Solar City was bailed out by the Clinton Administration.

    If Ford is guilty of one thing that I would agree with, it is he dreams big and believes in his dreams. Others don’t know how to make money so they hand theirs over to him knowing full well they may lose it in a deal, but that if he hits it will be a gusher. About the time he starts to succeed he often has run into corrupt partners, hyenas at the door and lazy lawyers not to mention corrupt politicians who want to ride his success or failure into higher office. Success in innovative ventures often attracts this kind of scum.

    And, Ford is his own man. His father is not an issue here…shall we all judge each other on the basis of our adversaries’ relatives? That will be interesting.

    As for the comments here that any investment returns above 10% or 15% must be scams; that is plain stupid. These are not publicly traded stocks and bonds we are talking about. Ford deals with unusual private investments, usually in “Frontier” markets that offer high returns but come with risks. I know of lots of projects that have generated 30% or higher returns in these kinds of private deals. I have even worked on some of them and they real. We are living at a time with there are more millionaires in the world than ever before; do you think they got there by buying stocks and bonds? Or putting their fortunes in bank savings accounts? Every person I’ve ever known to complain about a venture they lost money in, had prior to investing, told everyone in their business and social circles how rich, smart and lucky they are. I will guarantee you that when the facts come out, these same investors will be shown to have made lots of money with Ford in investments. Does any one want to bet that we will never hear from these investors, the state, or this web “hit” reporter about the money Ford made for these same investors who now cry foul?

    Continued next comment

  20. In the end, the Nigerians struggling for power during an election cycle and started squeezing Ford for payoffs, but he refused. I know this because I know the employees on the ground there at the time. The Nigerians wanted a cut of the deal and Ford said no and they then held his project hostage. Finally, after shipping millions of dollars of equipment there (and at his own cost), he pulled the plug. I know for a fact; Ford’s company is owed millions of dollars by the Nigerians AND Ford reported the theft of money from the project and the bribe requests by the Nigeran politicians (including a governor) to the EFCC (the Nigerian FBI).

    The reports that Ford’s company filed with the EFCC are a matter of public record that any of these anonymous commenters could have looked them up. The “local democracy advocacy groups” claim the Nigerian project remains nothing more than a hole in the ground. Doesn’t surprise me since most projects in Nigeria fail due to the corrupt government officials stealing. But that cannot be laid at Ford’s feet. He should be lauded for building power in a place that so badly needs it (only 9% of Sub Saharan populations have access to electricity which is critical for health, water pumping, children’s school studies at night etc.) and for reporting criminals when they stole from the project.
    If you want to criticize Ford for the Nigerian deals, then criticize him for even thinking he could win with such corruption. He had the smarts and the kahunas to go get a deal few small investment firms have ever nailed. It was the corrupt Nigerians who cause it to fail. Had they fulfilled their end of the bargain, I’m sure they would have the power plants and refineries running today. Ford took a loss I am sure. When he tried to pull out, they would not allow him to take the millions of dollars of equipment he had brought in at his cost. Hardly sounds like the bad guy.

    The power plants in North Carolina that Ford bought and overhauled were innovative and saved over 70 jobs. Running on coal at a time climate issues were coming into play; the equipment Ford had installed in these plants dramatically reduced emissions making them the most environmentally safe coal plants in the United States. Ford did this even as it cost him millions of dollars and even though he was not by law required to do this for over a decade – he did the right thing (has any anonymous commenter done the same from his pocket?). The market factors for electricity were very difficult at the time and an example of how difficult, one only must look at Tennessee Valley Authority and the unfinished plant in that same area.

    I’ve watched as Ford got into innovative fertilizer that increased food production while eliminating the nitrogen-based fertilizer that is the bomb material of choice in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, South America and…Oklahoma City. The Marine Corp Barracks in Beirut Lebanon was destroyed using the same explosive ingredients in nitrogen-based fertilizer. In Afghanistan it was banned for any use. Fords product was an awesome solution. Why has it not succeeded? I don’t know. Maybe it was because of all the haters trying to snipe at his initiatives that distracted him. They say you chase the dog with the bone and Ford always seems to be the lead dog.

    Continued next comment

  21. Later I worked for Ford’s company at the Taji power plant outside Baghdad. Again, we were under constant threat of mortars and snipers every day as we were rebuilding 5 Power Generators that were ancient (which anonymous commenters could have done that?). They did not use computer chips for control; rather a small room with mechanical relays covering all walls and connected by what looked like a bird’s nest of wires. There was zero documentation. Iraqis had been making undocumented revisions for decades without really even understanding what they were doing. We worked two 12-hour shifts for weeks to repair these units. Blazing hot days and mosquito filled nights under the lights. At the time the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was about to hand power back to the Iraqis. It was scheduled for June 30 just 4 days before our Independence Day. Attacks were expected and everyone was on high alert. GE who had a substantial force working at the plant packed up all its tools, parts and equipment and pulled out. The workers spent 2 weeks frolicking in the 5-star hotels and bars (full of Russian girls) of Dubai.

    The Vulcan guys, ever loyal to Ford stayed at the plant continuing the 12-hour shifts. We didn’t have to. but we supported Ford and he supported us. He paid extra funds from his own pocket to make sure that we had added security in the middle of this facility, which was in the heart of “the Triangle of Death” in Iraq (look it up). It was extremely dangerous, and we were there, and Ford had our back. I wonder which investor/NJ official/web blogger all going after Ford can say the same thing?
    We were a team doing a job no one had ever done before…reconstruction of a war-torn region while battles still raged outside the fence. We slept in crude trailers protected by sand bags stacked to the roof. Ford needed us and he made sure we were safe; or as safe as could be in the middle of a war. Everyone of Ford’s employees came home safe. No other American contractor on these jobs can say the same thing. Ford could have saved a lot of money and put our lives at risk. Instead, he did the right thing, is financially poorer for it and we all know it.

    Ford’s company’s work in Iraq ended when he refused to pay bribes to the new Iraqi government officials, to have us continue repairing and building power plants there. I know other companies paid such bribes and I know that they took over our sites when we left (you can look them up, they are household names). I know because I was there. Again, Ford refused to pay corrupt politicians under the table and that is why his company is not in Iraq still working on power. Does that sound like the bad guy here?

    When I returned to the US, I was owed about $25,000. I was having a hard time getting paid due to Ford’s Prime Contractor being slow in paying their bills to Ford. So, I made a personal trip the offices. I asked for my money and they refused but agreed to call Ford. Without hesitation I had a check authorized by Ford in minutes.

    That’s my personal experience with Ford. I have stayed in touch with him after Iraq because he was always doing interesting business deals that were cutting edge (futuristic then, but common now), and often very speculative. While I was living in Kabul, Afghanistan, I saw an article in the paper that Ford had closed a deal with the Nigerian Government for several billion dollars. I KNOW Nigeria. One of the most corrupt places on earth, and honestly, I do not know ANYONE…anyone, anywhere with a company like Ford’s who has a signed contract for ANY deal for several billion dollars. Ford got one and he did it honestly. I know because I talked to the people who worked for him at the time.

    Continued next comment

  22. Upon my arrival, we were “urged” by the U.S. Army, to get our power unit running and, on the grid, as soon as humanly possible. GE was present with several competitor power units at the same site. They were common plants lacking the sophistication of Ford’s unit. None of their units could generate power and most would not even start. They were old worn out scrap units sold to Iraq by GE as “operational”. I bet no one know that Ford sold his new equipment to Iraq at the same price as the GE units. The GE units had been offline for months while GE played games and took U.S. taxpayer money. I know, I was there.

    As it turned out, the rush by the U.S. Army to get me there was due to an anticipated public relations party planned to show the world the “first new power to go on the Iraq power grid in decades”. None of the GE generators would run or even start. Only the Ford’s new Vulcan unit that had arrived just shortly before would run, even though It was still in need of being “tweaked” to get the proper power profile for syncing with the Iraqi 50 hz grid (US is 60 Hz). I am proud to say that our power plant was the first new power that generated electricity after the war, and we turned on the lights in Baghdad. That was due to Ford and the extraordinary team he assembled. I know because I was there, and I had the honor of throwing the switch.

    We stayed on that job at considerable cost to Vulcan throughout the spring, the summer and into fall repairing GE machines that GE quit working on (in a spat over billing) that they had failed to repair and installing other power units. In early summer we generated electricity and put the unit online at maximum output. A success story that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still talks about.
    When I was hired to go to Iraq, I was provided by Ford’s company with a $1 million-dollar life insurance policy. The requirement by the US Government for life insurance for workers was only a $3,000 per man policy through an arrangement like Workers Compensation. GE, KBR, Haliburton, Brown and Root, Bechtel and most others only supplied their workers with the minimum insurance required, but Ford wanted us and our families to be taken care of should anything happen to us. That cost came from his pocket. Which one of the anonymous commenters here would do that?

    Ford needed some very specialized skills in the power generation field to sort out the problems we encountered. One man who was one of the best I’ve ever seen at power engineering, had social issues; drinking, etc., and was in jail for quite a while. Ford got him out of jail and flew him to Bayji to fix the final electrical issues. Sure, Ford benefited, but he could have solved his problem other ways with other people. He chose to help a man with a problem and give him a reason to stay sober. Which one of the anonymous commenters has done that?

    A side note: One of the anonymous comments mentioned an issue on a subcontractor who was “owed” money. I was there and I know this claim is bogus. This employee was responsible for ensuring the computer controls and the sending sensors on the power unit functioned properly. I personal watched this man play solitaire on his computer most of each day while we attempted to track down sensor faults that was his job. The problem was a sensor that he FAILED TO NOTICE was installed incorrectly indicating it was open when in fact the valve was closed (this was his job and he did not do it!).
    This condition caused us to blow up several hydraulic pump’s worth about $70,000 each. Ford shipped, parts and new pumps by the equivalent of next day air at his cost to Iraq from the U.S. They arrived at Baghdad, were picked up by a security escort team (at the same cost as to securely transport a human worker) and driven to Bayji with all the security costs.

    When faced with these facts, Ford disputed the bill from the subcontractor – who would not do the same? And he had the backing of all his loyal employees. Ford never quit, he never backed down or hid from the issues. He sunk everything he had into the project and in the end was left substantially unpaid by the conglomerate prime contractor who hired him. Note that before that contractor suddenly quit paying Ford, he conveniently utilized the awesome capability of Ford’s team to commission 2 gigantic GE Frame 9 generators that had originally been parts in crates in a laydown yard for almost a decade as part of the “oil for food” debacle of corruption conducted by the UN. This work was performed efficiently and on time. Hardly seems like he was a bad guy in the deal.

    Continued next comment

  23. Read part of the actual complaint. Looks like there should be a pretty clear paper trail of where the money went, and where it didn’t. Sound have called Vanguard: index funds.

  24. Those people have take advantage of many poor people who have worked for them, not paying them. They are not good decent people and our town will be better off without them!

  25. Great point Josh. Here is a lesson that we learned from Madoff:

    If anyone promises you returns of investments between 10-30% it’s a Ponzi scheme, plain and simple.

    Also, round of applause to Krystal for the fabulous reporting, per usual.

  26. How come no one asked me about investing in oil companies? I live on Prospect also. Seriously, I feel bad for the folks who were scammed. Note to anyone thinking of starting a Ponzi scheme: they never end well…in fact they can’t end well.

  27. Madoff was also a pillar in his community and look how that turned out. When someone is offering above market returns you should always be cautious. Another sad case of friends cheating friends.

  28. Thanks Krystal, excellent reporting. Of note, he has already signed a consent decree, which is damning enough. To David Kahn’s comments, John Wayne Gacy was also a “pillar of the community” and we all know how that turned out.

  29. Wow. The arrogance. They had a chance to have this go away quietly and they let it slip through their fingers.

  30. Mr. Kahn, thank you for commenting. The suit was filed yesterday and I have added a link to the copy I obtained yesterday, which is dated and time-stamped. The information in the story is from the NJ Attorney General, not a business. The Grahams actually signed a consent order judgment in this case last year, but then never followed through with their end of the deal, according to the state. If they had followed through, they may have been able to avoid a lawsuit and the news reports that happen after such a case is filed. I updated the story with more details. I would have linked to the case document earlier but it is quite large and took me time to download and then upload so I could link to it.

  31. Your loyalty is admirable gentlemen, but the State is not going to waste their time on security fraud if the don’t have a rock solid case against the Graham’s. The real victims are their children.

  32. “Speedy Gonzalez.” perhaps, you will identify yourself by your actual name? I’d be very interested to understand your perspective. Were you personally involved with Ford in a business capacity or in legal proceedings? Please let the public know who you are. Thank you.

  33. Ford Graham has been a known crook his entire life. His business dealings reflect just the kind of person he is. Someone who promises great returns, but never comes through and ends up looting you in the process.

    “According to legal filings in a Federal action in Florida, several of the Vulcan entities (including Vulcan AMPS, Vulcan Energy Solutions, and Vulcan Power Group) entered into a contract with the BGT Group in early 2007 to supply three mobile power trailers and one electric generator for eventual delivery to BGT’s customer, the Arkansas Cooperative Electric Company. The equipment was not delivered and BGT was later forced into bankruptcy due to a $17,600,000 judgement for failure to perform on the contract.[14]” In their civil complaint against Vulcan,BGT stated:

    “Defendants, however, lacked the requisite expertise and, in fact, intended to use this subcontract as a means of stealing BGT’s master contract with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Company. Although Defendants accepted and have retained more than $2 million in cash and $1 million in equipment from BGT to perform the contracted for services, Defendants have failed to complete any of this work and have refused to return any of the money or equipment to BGT.”[15]
    Bangladesh Work

  34. I have known Ford and Katherine since 2001. I do not believe they could have done what this article has suggested. While I do not know all the facts cited in the article, the facts I do know are markedly different than what seems to be published here. Ford and Katherine are good, decent people. Ford has coached Princeton kids’ football, basketball, baseball teams and has led the local Boy Scouts troops on numerous outings. Katherine has volunteered for schools, charities, the Boy Scouts, and supported numerous worthy projects all across Princeton. Our town is a better place because of these and like-minded people. Contrary to what the article claims, they do not live extravagant lives.

    Ford and Kathy live down the street from me in the same modest house for more than 25 years. They drive well-worn, decade old vehicles. In no way is their lifestyle extravagant as the article might lead some to believe. As many of their neighbors could attest, each would give you the shirt off his or her back if asked and request nothing in return. While scurrilous news garners attention, elements of this article seem highly suspect. This article might well have been submitted by someone who has a business dispute with Ford. As anyone knows, there is always an opposite side or contrasting view point for any given story.

    Pointedly, this article came out before the state of NJ filed anything in Court. I believe this case will be resolved quickly, and in all likelihood, in the Grahams’ favor when all of the facts come to light. I trust Planet Princeton will follow-up with the case in honest reporting fashion.

    David Kahn

  35. Like father, like son. These are only civil charges; hoping criminal charges follow shortly.

  36. “Ford F. Graham is the son of John J. Graham who was at the center of the Prudential Bache Limited Partnership scandal of the 1980s that was chronicled in the book Serpent on the Rock by Kurt Eichenwald. At the time it was one of the largest financial scandals to ever have hit Wall Street with allegations that 340,000 investors had been defrauded out of eight billion dollars”. [2][3]

    This guy literally comes from cesspool is ponz-scum.

  37. Hey Doug, your buddy is a spin-less corrupt crook who operated on an international scale. Here’s an excerpt from his business dealings in Nigeria:

    “After four years local democracy advocacy groups claim the Nigerian project remains nothing more than a hole in the ground with allegations of fraud and corruption levied against both Vulcan and local Nigerian officials.” [11]

    Thank you “Anonymous” for providing us the link.

  38. This may be conjecture by a publicity-seeking prosecutor. No way of knowing what is true until the accused have their day(s) in court and guilt is proven or not. And why is this being tried by State of NJ, not the SEC? “Tropical vacations” may mean they visited Florida, and so on.

    Full disclosure: I know the Graham’s as forthright people, but I have never invested with them. Stay your judgment people, lest ye be judged unfairly too.

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