Date: June 19, 2020
DENVER – Stephen Yobst of Denver, Colorado was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson to serve 27 months in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, filing false tax returns and theft of government funds. Yobst was also ordered to pay restitution totaling $1,167,273.42, with $806,216 going to Xcel Energy and $361,057.42 going to the Internal Revenue Service.
According to the information and plea agreement, in 2005, Yobst was employed by Xcel Energy with the title of "Category Manager, Sourcing and Purchasing". Yobst's co-conspirator, James Brittain, incorporated a company called Pacific Exchange Group, Inc. (PEG) in Colorado in March 2005. On March 18, 2005, Yobst opened a Vectra Bank account representing himself as the "President" of PEG. Brittain was added as an authorized signatory in November 2005. In December 2006, PEG entered into a Master Exchange Agreement (MEA) contract with Xcel designed to allow Xcel to postpone paying taxes on gains from the sale of certain assets if the sales were reinvested in similar property as permitted by the Internal Revenue Code.
Yobst participated in the MEA contract negotiations as an officer on behalf of Xcel while Brittain represented PEG. As part of the agreement, Xcel would deposit the proceeds from disposing Xcel's transformers and fleet vehicles and hold the funds until directed by Xcel to distribute them for the purchase of replacement assets. Xcel agreed to pay PEG 5% commission on the sale price for vehicles and a 12% commission for transformers. Additionally, with Xcel's prior approval, PEG could be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses for "professional legal and tax services and other expenses".
Beginning in 2005 and continuing through approximately May 14, 2015, Yobst and Brittain worked together to divert, use and convert funds for their own personal benefit without Xcel's authorization. The diversion of funds included withdrawals from the PEG account to a Scottrade Account for $400,000, which were used by Yobst and Brittain to conduct stock transactions and other investment activities; $363,966 in payments to American Express for Yobst's personal expenditures; and Yobst wiring $42,250 to an automotive dealer to purchase a 2011 Honda Pilot.
Yobst and Brittain purposely concealed Yobst's involvement in PEG and failed to provide Xcel with a detailed accounting of the exchange funds deposited or copies of PEG's Vectra Bank account statements. Xcel filed a civil suit in September 2014 seeking an accounting of all exchange funds in the PEG bank account and the return of unspent funds. Brittain and Yobst provided false and misleading information in connection with the litigation.
Additionally, between March 2011 and October 2014, acting as PEG's accountant, Yobst transferred $10,500 monthly from the PEG bank account to an account Yobst personally controlled. Yobst mischaracterized the transfers as "ACH Offsets" to an entity labelled "Havfund" when in fact they were personal income payments from PEG to Yobst. Also, during this time, Yobst used a PEG American Express credit card for personal expenditures, including golf supplies, leisure travel, cigars, and other items. Finally, in 2015, Yobst obtained accumulated disbursements totaling $1,324,644. Yobst filed personal federal income tax returns which did not reflect the PEG income or taxes due for these disbursements.
"IRS Criminal Investigation's primary focus is the nation's tax laws, however schemes like this not only involve our primary mission but also allows us to focus our abilities to unravel complex financial schemes," said Andy Tsui, Special Agent in Charge, IRS CI Denver Field Office. "Our agents are uniquely qualified to follow the money in cases such as this because the victims are not only the taxpayers, but also individuals and entities who suffer the financial harm."
"Today's sentencing of Stephen Yobst illustrates the FBI's commitment to identify and arrest anyone who participates in defrauding corporate and government institutions," said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Michael Schneider. "Yobst's sentencing comes as a result of the dedicated and tireless efforts of agents, analysts, and prosecutors committed to holding those accountable who deliberately compromise the integrity of their position for personal gain."
"The defendant not only created and operated a complex scheme to steal from his employer, he stole from all of us as taxpayers," said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn. "Thanks to the great work of IRS - Criminal Investigation, the FBI, and the team in my office, he's going to have time in a federal prison to think about his conduct."
Brittain was sentenced on June 21, 2019, to serve 12 months and 1 day in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for wire fraud, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Brittain was also ordered to pay restitution to Great American Insurance Company in the amount of $806,216 and to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $215,094.
Yobst pled guilty on September 3, 2019 to an information filed on June 26, 2019. He was sentenced on June 15, 2020.
This case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tim Neff.