A former energy trading supervisor for Western Gas Resources Inc. has been ordered to pay a $60,000 civil penalty to settle charges that he attempted to manipulate natural gas prices in 2000 and 2001, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). In a consent order issued earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Phillip S. Figa required Andrew K. Richmond of Superior, CO, to pay the penalty, and it permanently prohibits him from applying for registration, engaging in any activity requiring registration, or acting as a principal as defined by the National Futures Association, and from directly or indirectly trading on or subject to the rules of any registered entity. The consent order arose from a CFTC lawsuit filed on April 12, 2005, which found that between April 2000 and February 2001, Richmond pressured traders he supervised to submit false gas trading information, including fabricated price and volume information, to Gas Daily in order to benefit certain positions held by Western Gas (see Daily GPI, April 15, 2005). In addition, the consent order found that at least two traders that Richmond supervised submitted false trade information to Gas Daily. In 2004, Western Gas agreed to pay a civil penalty of $7 million in a settlement with the CFTC over charges of attempted manipulation and reporting of false information by traders on gas transactions in the 1999-2002 time period (see Daily GPI, July 2, 2004). "Previous investigations such as this one have shed light on published cash commodity indexes that are used as vehicles of price discovery," said CFTC's Gregory Mocek, director of enforcement. "Traders should not take comfort over the fact that such indexes are unregulated on a day-to-day basis because supplying bogus information to an index compiler is ultimately a violation of federal law that we will pursue."

California-based energy service provider Commerce Energy Group said it is rebranding its basic natural gas and electric retail offerings as "Smart Choice" to stimulate interest in switching energy providers among consumers. The hope is that the rebranding will encourage growth in "innovative energy programs and consumer education," the company said. In January, the Costa Mesa, CA-based company launched its clean energy products offering under the name "Clear Choice," offering 100% or 50% wind-generated electricity to residential and small business consumers in Texas and Maryland "The rebranding of our traditional energy service plans links both traditional and clean energy offerings with 'choice,' which is what competitive energy providers bring to the market," said Thomas Ulry, Commerce senior vice president for sales and marketing. Commerce operates in 10 states serving 164,000 gas and/or electric residential and commercial customers: California (where the company began operations 10 years ago), Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas.

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