Oklahoma City Thunder part owner Aubrey McClendon has been charged with conspiring to rig bids for the purchase of oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
McClendon owns an estimated 20 percent of the Thunder and was part of the ownership group led by Clay Bennett that relocated the team from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.
"The charge filed against me today is wrong and unprecedented," McClendon said in a statement.
McClendon, 56, is the co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the company that currently holds the naming rights to the Thunder's arena. McClendon left the company in 2013 and founded American Energy Partners one day after leaving Chesapeake.
The indictment alleges McClendon "orchestrated a conspiracy between two large oil and gas companies to not bid against each other for the purchase of certain oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma." According to the indictment, the conspiracy ran from December 2007 to March 2012, during which the conspirators would decide ahead of time who would win bids, with the winner then allocating an interest in the leases to the other company.
Leasehold interests usually include the right to develop the land and to extract oil and natural gas for a period of time, typically three to five years.
Each violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals.
Before the SuperSonics' relocation, McClendon was quoted by Oklahoma City's The Journal Record in 2007 as saying the ownership group "didn't buy the Seattle SuperSonics to keep them in Seattle." The NBA fined McClendon $250,000 for the comment because his statement was in contrast to the organization's publicly claimed intentions of keeping the team in Seattle.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.