Rivera apparently dies amid case

Published 12:06 am Friday, August 19, 2011

NATCHEZ — Self-professed biofuels wizard John Rivera apparently died on Monday near Baytown, Texas.

Rivera’s alleged death raised eyebrows among investors cheated by his schemes and the government attorneys who sought justice in Rivera’s stock manipulation scandal.

Rivera, who a federal judge ruled in July had lied about his company in order to profit from falsely inflated stock prices, proved equally as difficult to believe in death.

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Several online posts on stock investment sites alleged Rivera might have faked his own death to skirt punishment.

“For a variety of reasons, I think the world is skeptical,” said Alex Rue, senior trial counsel for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Atlanta Regional Office. Rue was one of two attorneys who represented the SEC in its case against Rivera.

“I told his lawyer, ‘I don’t believe he’s dead; show me a death certificate.’”

“When I see that death certificate, whoever signed it is going to sit down with me in a deposition and explain it,” Rue said. “Color me skeptical.”

Rivera’s attorney, Clarence McDonald Leland of Brandon, filed a “suggestion of death” notice with the U.S. District Court in Natchez on Tuesday on behalf of Rivera’s wife, Alice M. Price Rivera.

She was listed as a relief defendant in the SEC’s case, meaning she was believed to have profited from her husband’s illegal activity.

Such a court notice would be made to simply alert the court that the defendant may have died. A call to Leland was not returned.

Navarre Funeral Home in Baytown, Texas, posted a small obituary notice on its website, offering few details about Rivera’s death, only that no funeral service would be scheduled.

The obituary noted that Rivera was born in Miami, on May 13, 1949, and died Aug. 15, 2011, and resided in Baytown.

Funeral director Todd Oubre said they were prohibited from releasing information because of privacy policies. He referred inquiries to Judge Larry Cryer, a justice of the peace in neighboring Chamber County.

Cryer confirmed he was handling the inquest into Rivera’s death.

A justice of the peace may act as coroner in counties in which a medical examiner’s office does not exist.

Cryer said law enforcement authorities were called to Rivera’s Baytown residence on Monday.

“The housekeeper came in and found him, in the bed,” Cryer said.

The exact identity of the body will remain undetermined pending the autopsy results, but Cryer said he believed the body appeared to be Rivera’s.

“I have a photo of him, it looks close to me, but I didn’t know him, so I couldn’t say for sure,” Cryer said, adding that autopsies are routinely requested in cases of unattended deaths. “We like to make sure (of the identity) to the best of our ability.”

The autopsy included fingerprinting the body, Cryer said. The results were not complete Thursday afternoon, he said, but could be used to confirm Rivera’s identity.

Attorney Rue said when the autopsy results were finalized his office would compare the fingerprints.

Prior to Thursday, Cryer was unaware of Rivera’s legal troubles.

Rue said that Rivera had used health issues as an excuse for not remembering details during depositions involving the case.

Court documents show Rivera claimed that prescription medication he once took blocked his memory for the eight years of time in which the government alleged he misled investors.

Rivera burst onto the Natchez scene in 2006 claiming ownership of a company that had patents to a revolutionary process to turn soybeans into biofuel.

His promises were on a grand scale. In 2006, Rivera claimed that his Adams County plans would include the possible hiring of up to 2,000 people and eventually produce 1.5 million gallons of the magical biofuel per day.

Nothing ever became of his plans in Natchez and the company eventually moved its headquarters to Texas.

The SEC’s case, filed in 2008, alleged that Rivera used false press releases and other false public statements to drive up interest — and stock price — in his company, U.S. Sustainable Energy Corp.

U.S. District Judge David Bramlette issued a judgment against Rivera in July, affirming the SEC’s allegations.

SEC attorneys had requested the court bar Rivera from ever acting as an officer or director in a company with securities registered with the SEC. In addition, they sought to have Rivera barred from participating in any “penny stock” offerings and they sought his payback of any ill-gained profits he earned.

SEC attorneys had been asked to provide additional documentation to the court prior to Bramlette ruling on the injunction request, Rue said.

Rivera’s death left investors wondering if the stock manipulator had managed to avoid justice.

One of those investors, Curtis Patrick of Wesson, said he didn’t lose lots of money in his investments in USSEC, but he knew of people who did.

“I’m just a small fry compared to some of the people,” Patrick said. “One man lost his whole (nest) egg that he put into it.

“Everything was just one lie after another,” he said. “I hope he died suffering, that’s just my opinion.”

Attorney Rue said he believes Rivera’s death would not end the SEC’s case.

“It doesn’t make our entire case go away if he’s actually dead,” he said, adding the court could seek damages against his estate.

Rue said he looks forward to having the case resolved soon.

“I deal with liars, big bad liars, all the time, that’s the bread and butter here, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody more inclined to just lie, lie, lie, like John Rivera.