A man from Sheridan who faces a maximum of 70 years in prison if convicted on all seven charges of embezzling over $1 million in royalties from a local oil company, pleaded not guilty this morning in district court, on all counts.
In an arraignment that lasted about 20 minutes, 55-year-old Ronald Barnes sat quietly in suit and tie at the courthouse in Sheridan, while the judge explained the charges and made sure he understood the court proceedings that would follow his plea.
Court documents describe the defendant as a man who began siphoning money from Summit Gas Resources soon after he was hired to work as their chief financial officer in the Sheridan office in April of 2004, then continued the plan over the next eight years until found out in 2012. Summit is in the oil and gas well drilling and production business in Wyoming and was previously known as Pinnacle Gas Resources.
According to court documents, Barnes had the authority to make accounting entries allocating or changing ownership or interests in wells drilled by Summit and to direct others to make entries that would result in payments from Summit's bank accounts to companies with purported ownership, working or royalty interest in wells drilled and operated by Summit.
Summit officials uncovered the alleged embezzlement in 2012, according to court records, when they discovered that Summit made 18 royalty payments totaling more than $333,000 to BK Energy, a company owned by Barnes, over the course of 11 months, from January to December that year, which had been arranged by Barnes.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Barnes issued other payments to himself, prior to that year – 22 from November of 2009 to February of 2011, totaling nearly $24,000. Also found was a transfer to Barnes' account of $300,00-$400,000 from 2005-2007, and 36 payments totaling over a half a million from 2004-07.
According to the court document, Barnes confessed to taking the money when confronted by company officials and at one point said he'd pay it back. In another section, he describes his fraudulent scheme, then says he got greedy and needed more money because of his divorce.
He said nothing during the arraignment, other than giving yes and no answers to the judge about understanding the charges and proceedings. The judge said he'd be releasing a document order in coming days that will set the date for the trial. There were no photos taken of the defendant or audio recordings of the proceedings because cell phones, cameras and recording equipment were not allowed in the court room.