The No. 2 executive of a company that roamed Idaho and beyond bilking investors of millions of dollars in a scheme to build a phony nuclear power plant was sentenced Jan. 7 to 30 months in federal prison, three years of supervised release including six months of home confinement, and ordered to forfeit $580,780 and pay victims $116,138 for her part in the years-long nuclear scam that preyed upon unsuspecting investors and Idahoans hoping for nonexistent high-paying jobs.
Senior United States District Judge Edward Lodge sent Jennifer Ransom, one-time Senior Vice President of Administration of Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI), to prison for her role in a far-reaching securities fraud concocted by former AEHI CEO Donald Gillispie, who brought his scheme from Virginia to Idaho in late 2006 with promises that Idaho and the three counties he tried to victimize would become rich beyond imagination if Idaho fell for his plot. Gillispie is currently being sought by the U.S. Marshall Service and is among Crime Stoppers of Southwest Idaho’s Most Wanted.
Lodge, who before sentencing Ransom noted he has presided over other financial crime cases like this one, told Ransom he “wrestled with this” case extensively and considered her pleading guilty to one count of securities fraud in a plea bargain deal in which the U.S. government dropped several other charges and that included her cooperation in providing evidence, including her wearing a secret recording device as the government sought clues to Gillispie’s whereabouts. Throughout the case, the government provided overwhelming evidence of criminal behavior by Gillispie and Ransom, their personal relationship, their exorbitant lifestyle financed by bilked investors, and their manipulation of AEHI stock prices that led to the fraud charges and the collapse of the bogus corporation.
The Snake River Alliance blew the whistle on AEHI almost immediately upon Gillispie’s highly publicized arrival in Idaho in December 2006. Gillispie and his nuclear scam were eventually flushed from their first stop in Owyhee County and then from their next stop in Elmore County before Gillispie’s third and final target, Payette County, rolled out the red carpet by rezoning tracts of land and blessing Gillispie’s proposal in the face of overwhelming evidence provided by the Alliance and others showing the project was a scam. All along the way, AEHI promised counties would be rich beyond their dreams, local residents would get high-paying jobs in the bogus reactor plant, and that Gillispie’s AEHI would rival Exxon Mobil in profitability. Gillispie went so far as to sue the Alliance for defamation in 2008 after the Alliance branded the AEHI plan a “scam” and AEHI wound up dropping the lawsuit as without merit.
The heart of AEHI’s stock manipulation scheme was to issue news releases and other company statements to drive up the price of AEHI stock (usually valued at a nickel or less per share) so Gillispie, Ransom, and others could sell hundreds of thousands of shares at profits. Government prosecutors also produced evidence of exotic trips and purchases of everything from Italian sports cars to jewelry with proceeds stolen from investors.
Ransom’s only witness before Lodge sentenced her was Dan Hamilton, a one-time Boise TV newscaster who joined AEHI to run its public relations shop in 2010. Hamilton told Lodge that “anti-nuclear activists” and others drummed up “negative comments” to undermine AEHI and its power plant, adding claims of fraud by AEHI critics were “nonsense.”
Before being sentenced, Ransom sought to downplay her knowledge of the breadth of the stock scam. But as she pleaded for leniency in the wake of her admission of guilt, she told Lodge that “I feel awful for all the stockholders” and that “manipulation of stock is unacceptable” and that “I should have known” and that “I’m so sorry, I’m really sorry” and that “I want stockholders to know … I never meant to anything that would harm them” and that “I’ve learned my lesson” and, discussing her former business and personal partner-turned fugitive Gillispie, “I would love to find him because I’d like to wring his neck right now.”
Lodge told Ransom, “It’s obvious you’re a very good person in many respects,” before adding, “You received a substantial amount of cash.” He said she would learn in 4-6 weeks where to report to begin her 30-month prison sentence, giving her time to address personal issues beforehand.
In 2012, as federal regulators were publicly pursuing civil fraud charges against AEHI and its officers Gillispie and Ransom, the Alliance posted a lengthy recap of the company’s Idaho history, which you can find here.