Charlotte, South Carolina - A former lobbyist pleaded guilty Wednesday to making a false statement to U.S. Postal Inspectors in connection with an ongoing federal investigation and proceedings concerning a five-year multi-million dollar high-yield investment fraud scheme, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Christopher Petrella, 51, of Greer, South Carolina, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer of the Western District of North Carolina to one count of making a false statement.  Sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled, will be before U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad of the Western District of North Carolina.

Petrella was indicted in October 2018 for one count of obstruction of justice. Under the plea agreement, the government will move to dismiss the indictment at sentencing.

As part of his guilty plea, Petrella admitted that, in an attempt to mislead federal law enforcement about his involvement in a high-yield investment scheme involving Niyato Industries Inc (Niyato), he knowingly and willfully made the false claim that he had filed a “quarterly report” with U.S. Congress pursuant to certain requirements applicable to federal lobbyists, such as himself.  The “quarterly report” purportedly disclosed to authorities that certain individuals had made false and misleading statements about Niyato’s business and operations on Niyato’s Twitter and Facebook pages. 

Ten individuals had been previously indicted by a Charlotte grand jury for their alleged roles in a high-yield investment scheme involving Niyato.  The charges in that case allege that the defendants raised money from investors by representing that Niyato manufactured electric and compressed natural gas automobiles when, in truth, the company had no facilities, no operations and no capability to manufacture anything.  Two defendants were recently found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, following a three-week trial and are awaiting sentencing.  Four other defendants have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.  One additional defendant has pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 102 months in prison in connection with his role in the Niyato case and in an unrelated Costa Rican sweepstakes fraud.  Daniel Thomas Broyles, Sr., 61, of Beverly Hills, California, was also charged and remains a fugitive.  An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  Trial Attorneys William Bowne and Christopher Fenton of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.