Fighting Mad

Tycoon Jack Grynberg says the energy industry has stolen millions from him -- and billions from the government. What if he's right?

Pringle found that 35 of Grynberg's 73 cases met the requirements.

Judge Downes disagreed. In his ruling last month dismissing many of Grynberg's claims, he wrote that various public disclosures, including Grynberg's own earlier lawsuit that was dismissed by Judge Hogan, had already put the government on notice of the gas industry's dubious measurement practices. Grynberg, in his view, is "an 'opportunistic plaintiff' who has little or no significant information to contribute of his own."

The case is a classic example of overreaching, Downes decided: "Grynberg deliberately chose to make sweeping allegations of fraud against nearly the entire industry, based in large part on rank speculation. By employing such odious tactics he now becomes the instrument of his own undoing."

Grynberg seems baffled by the rebuke. "I filed 73 cases," he says. "I've spent over twenty million dollars of my own money. I've only collected on one of the cases, about a million and a half. You tell me: Am I opportunistic?"

He says a federal prosecutor told him that he had to file against every energy company for which he had evidence of fraud. "He said, 'If you just pick some of the big ones, I'll recommend that it be dismissed,'" he remembers. "I was forced to file on everybody."

There could be some consolation, perhaps, in the judge's reasoning that allegations of fraud in the oil and gas industry are now so commonplace that Grynberg shouldn't be considered an original source. But Grynberg claims he's the one who figured out where and how the alleged thievery is taking place, that he did extensive firsthand research -- traveling to producing properties, interviewing witnesses, studying the layout -- to build his case.

"From what I know, he's clearly the original source of his case," says Moorman of the False Claims Legal Center. "He hasn't taken someone else's work. His case should be allowed to go forward."

Grynberg has prepared a weighty document proposing revisions to the False Claims Act. The notion that his own prior complaint qualifies as a "public disclosure" that bars his current lawsuits against the same companies strikes him as highly ironic; such an interpretation, he writes, "rewards a notorious defrauder by providing it with partial immunity for later and distinct claims of fraud."

A hearing and formal order by Judge Downes on Grynberg's case is scheduled for November 17. Regardless of the outcome, Grynberg wants to see the False Claims Act amended to make it easier for whistleblowers to get to court. He's also keen on shaking up the standard practices of the gas industry. A bill soon to be introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York calls for the National Academy of Engineering to study methods that could improve the collection of federal oil and gas royalties. Many of the suggested changes -- requiring digital meters, fixing chipped orifice plates, temperature probes upstream of the meter, and so on -- are issues Grynberg has been harping about for years.

A lifelong Republican, these days Grynberg finds himself spending more time talking to Democrats about what's wrong in his industry. "I'm hopeful that with a new governor and a new Congress, we'll see some changes," he says.

But not all of the news now coming out of the courtroom is bad, as far as Grynberg is concerned. The Justice Department did intervene in one of his false-claims cases, one involving carbon dioxide gas wells on federal lands in southwestern Colorado. Grynberg alleged that the exploration company was valuing the gas at seventeen cents per thousand cubic feet for royalty purposes but selling it at a rate of $2.87 per thousand cubic feet. The Justice Department settled the case for around $6 million; Grynberg received a quarter of the settlement.

Just a few weeks ago, Grynberg settled several other cases involving carbon dioxide production in the Cortez area against Shell, Kinder Morgan, Exxon Mobil and related companies. He can't talk about the settlement, he says, but he acknowledges that it was a "respectable" result, even by his demanding standards.

Of all the dark secrets of the oil and gas business, that seems to be the one topic Jack Grynberg won't talk about: how much it takes to make him go away.

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