Tampa Man Sentenced for $3 Million Biofuels Fraud

- by Susan Salisbury, December 9, 2014, Palm Beach Post      

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"344","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","style":"width: 244px; height: 233px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;"}}]]A Tampa man was sentenced today on charges he scammed investors out of more than $3 million after promising returns on bio-energy crops such as camelina that were not even planted


William A. Vasden Jr. who once headed the Florida Feedstock Growers Association, was sentenced to four years in federal prison in a Fort Myers courtrom.

Vasden was also charged with fraudulently applying for federal grant funds for alternative energy projects that never materialized.

The scam was uncovered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services during a top-to-bottom audit of outstanding grants and projects conducted immediately after the department assumed responsibility of the state’s Office of Energy.

“Our audit exposed several cases of fraud, saving more than $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam. “Misuse of public funds is unacceptable, and those who have committed fraud will be held accountable.”

In 2010, the state’s Office of Energy, which was housed in the Executive Office of the Governor at that time, awarded $500,000 to a Tampa-based company, USCJO Inc., and its president, Vasden, to support a sustainable feedstock farm in Arcadia, Fla.

Once the office was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the department conducted an audit of all outstanding grants and projects to identify fraud. An investigation of USCOJ, Inc. uncovered fraud, and the department withheld disbursement of the funds committed.

The criminal investigation, conducted jointly with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, showed that through making false statements about the grant money, Vasden had scammed investors out of more than $3 million. He was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2012 for 30 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements.

Earlier this year, Vasden pleaded guilty to the 31 charges and was sentenced today to four years in prison and three years of supervised release by U.S. District Court Judge John Steele.