Jewell Robbins, the Jessamine County woman who has frequently tangled with regulators for selling shares in the 1901 Spindletop oil strike, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of failing to register with the state to sell securities.
Robbins, 76, also known as Alvina Jewell Burgin, pleaded guilty before Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael. She is scheduled to be sentenced April 10.
Ron Bowling, the Lexington attorney who represents Robbins, said his client wanted to get the matter behind her.
"If it had been a fraud count or anything like that, she would not have pled guilty, but the simple fact is that she did not register as a broker, and what's true is true," he said. "She has some serious health conditions, and she did not feel strong enough to go to trial."
Never miss a local story.
The maximum penalty is five years in prison, but prosecutor Andrea Williams recommended three years.
"We're going to argue for probation based upon her age and the nature of the offense, and the fact that she has no criminal record at all," Bowling said. "The prosecution is not going to oppose probation; they're going to stand silent on that issue."
Robbins was indicted in October by a Fayette County grand jury on four felony counts. As part of Friday's plea agreement, two counts charging Robbins with selling unregistered securities were dismissed, along with another count accusing her of fraudulent sales.
The charges were a result of an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions.
In a statement, DFI commissioner Charles Vice thanked Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson's office for prosecuting the case.
"For years, DFI has sought to halt her illegal activities," Vice said. "Prosecution on criminal charges demonstrates the extent to which Robbins has defied Kentucky's securities law."
There are thought to be hundreds or even thousands of people all over the country who invested with Robbins. The Department of Financial Institutions said she sold shares in baseless lawsuits that attempted to claim inheritance related to the 1901 Spindletop oil strike in Texas.
Spindletop was one of the richest oil deposits on Earth and has yielded billions of dollars worth of crude oil since production began.
Bowling said Robbins "real ly believes that there is money out there owed on these estates."
Last year, Robbins served all but 16 or 17 days of a 120-day sentence for contempt of court after a Franklin Circuit judge ruled that she had violated his June 2006 and May 2007 orders to refrain from selling securities. The remaining days of the sentence were suspended when the Fayette indictment was issued, Bowling said.
On June 16, 2006, Robbins signed a voluntary, permanent injunction order that barred her from selling any securities, including partial interest in litigation or judgments.
Robbins has at least one other pending legal problem in Fayette Circuit Court.
Carol Blythewood of Middletown, Ohio, filed suit in 2007 seeking to recover $16,700 that she and her now-deceased husband had invested with Robbins.
Robbins did not contest the civil suit, and Fayette Circuit Judge Kimberly Bunnell granted a default judgment against Robbins "two or three months ago," said Robert Trainor, the Covington attorney who represents Blythewood.
Robbins was to have appeared in court Friday for a "judgment debtor exam," in which she would have been questioned under oath about her assets, Trainor said.
But Robbins did not appear for that exam. It was scheduled for 8:30 a.m., two hours before Friday's proceeding in the criminal division of Fayette Circuit Court.
In any case, Trainor said he will file a motion for a show-cause hearing. In that proceeding, Robbins would have to explain why the judge shouldn't hold her in contempt.