SandRidge Energy Inc. Tom Ward, who founded the company in 2006 and has been its only chairman and CEO, was ousted by the board on Wednesday and replaced by current President James Bennett.

Lead independent director Jeffrey Serota is to serve as interim nonexecutive chairman of the Oklahoma City operator. Ward, who had co-founded Chesapeake Energy Corp. with Aubrey McClendon, left to form SandRidge in 2006. McClendon was forced out at Chesapeake on April 1.

“The board’s decision to replace Ward reflects its judgment that, despite Ward’s many contributions to SandRidge, new leadership is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders at this time,” the board said.

“On behalf of the board, I want to express our appreciation of Tom’s leadership and vision, which led to the founding and growth of SandRidge,” Serota said.

The announcement came after the board’s audit committee completed a previously announced independent investigation, which was prompted by allegations of improper related-party transactions in oil and gas properties in the Mississippian Lime. “After reviewing the facts developed during the audit committee’s investigation, the nonemployee members of the board unanimously determined that such did not merit a termination for cause.” Since the termination was without cause Ward will receive a severance package in accordance with his contract.

Ward, under fire for more than a year, had faced lawsuits about how he ran the company, and he and the company were dogged by shareholder groups over similar claims that had faced McClendon.

Bennett began as SandRidge’s CFO in January 2011 and he became president in March.

“As we begin a new chapter in the company’s history, we are focused on keeping our talented team motivated, enhancing our communications, and delivering on expectations by efficiently executing on our assets,” said Bennett. “We are confident this will result in value creation for all stakeholders, including our stockholders, employees and the communities in which we operate.”

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