Financial backer was cutting ties with Aubrey McClendon before indictment, death

A television news helicopter captured this image of the single-vehicle crash that killed former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon.
A television news helicopter captured this image of the single-vehicle crash that killed former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon.

One of Aubrey McClendon’s biggest financial backers was cutting ties with him in the days before he was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on bid-rigging charges, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Houston-based Energy & Minerals Group, a private-equity firm led by John Raymond, was working on a plan to be completely independent of McClendon by the end of the month. As of Feb. 26, the shale pioneer no longer had a leadership role at any of the companies created by the firm and McClendon’s American Energy Partners, created after he was forced out as CEO at Chesapeake Energy in 2013, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private investments.

McClendon, 56, died in a fiery single-car accident Wednesday, a day after the indictment was announced.

Federal authorities sought Thursday to drop the indictment. Meanwhile, attorneys for a northwest Oklahoma landowner filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against Chesapeake Energy, alleging a conspiracy that involved another energy executive, ex-Sandridge Energy CEO Tom Ward.

State officials say investigations into McClendon’s death could take months to complete. Oklahoma City police Sgt. Ashley Peters said a probe of Wednesday’s crash likely will take up to two weeks, while the state medical examiner’s office says an autopsy investigation could take as long as three months.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Chicago-based antitrust division alleged in the indictment against McClendon that he and unnamed co-conspirators orchestrated a conspiracy to rig bids for landowner leases in northwest Oklahoma. Ward, a longtime friend of McClendon’s who co-founded Chesapeake in the 1980s, was the CEO of Sandridge at the time the conspiracy was alleged to have occurred.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg declined Thursday to confirm that Ward and Sandridge are the unindicted co-conspirators or that its investigation into the conspiracy is ongoing. Messages seeking comment Thursday from Ward and Sandridge were not immediately returned.

But Warren Burns, one of the attorneys who filed the class-action lawsuit, said it appears Ward and Sandridge Energy are the unindicted co-conspirators listed in the indictment against McClendon.

McClendon’s passing and word that investors are severing ties raised questions about the future of American Energy Partners.

In a statement Thursday, the company said it will continue on.

“While all of the employees at AELP are deeply saddened by this tragic event, we are firm in our conviction that Aubrey would want us to persevere and continue his extraordinary legacy of innovation and creativity,” the Oklahoma City-based company said on its website.

This report includes material from Bloomberg News and The Associated Press.

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