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FERC Questions Companies' Ties to Two Convicted Gas Traders

FERC has asked two Houston-based companies whether the men identified in their applications for market-based rate authority are the same traders who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to manipulate the price of natural gas.

Vista Energy Marketing LP and Vista Energy Trading LP earlier this year filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seeking authority to charge market-based rates in the wholesale power market [ER09-553, ER09-614]. The applications cited Michael Whalen as a member of Irish Marketing LLC, the sole general partner of Vista Trading, and Paul Atha as director of trading for Vista Marketing.

In a letter last Thursday FERC asked Paul Mulvaney, CFO of Vista Energy Marketing, whether Whalen and Atha are the same traders who in 2006 entered guilty pleas in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to felony charges of conspiracy to manipulate the price of natural gas (see NGI, June 26, 2006). Whalen, a former Cinergy trader, was sentenced to three years of probation and a $5,000 fine. Atha, a one-time trader with Mirant, was sentenced to three years of probation, six months of home confinement and a $5,000 fine as well.

The two former traders also entered into separate consent orders with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that permanently enjoin them from applying for registration, engaging in any activity requiring registration, or acting as a principal as defined by the National Futures Association. Whalen and Atha were each required to pay $200,000 in civil penalties (see NGI, Nov. 20, 2006).

In 2005 Whalen and Atha were charged by the CFTC in a sweeping set of civil charges against 15 former energy traders (see NGI, Feb. 7, 2005).

FERC wants to know if Whalen and Atha are "currently engaged in selling or trading natural gas or electricity or futures of natural gas or electricity in the United States. The agency further asked whether Atha or Whalen "have violated any laws or regulations relating or energy markets or trading" since 2006. And it questioned whether the terms of Atha's probation specify that he is to have no contact with Whalen.

The Commission directed Mulvaney to respond to the questions within 30 days.

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