Lawrence D. Morris, president of the defunct North American Coal Exchange Inc. of Arlington, has been brought from a federal prison in Florida to face charges here of grand larceny, sale of unregistered securities and fraudulent sale of securities.
The 15 charges contained in an indictment handed down by an Arlington grand jury indictment last May, stem from an alleged nationwide coal-selling scheme in which investors across the country were persuaded to buy nonexistent securities.
The case is expected to be the first trial in Virginia state courts of a violation of the state's securities fraud law, said Arlington Assistant Prosecutor Frank Soulier.
The indictments involve five victims and about $131,000, but investigators familiar with the case said a total of 144 "clients" invested about $1.6 million in the business.
"It's a rather large case involving many victims from around the country," said Virginia State Police Special Agent Robert C. Martin.
Morris, 46, was brought by Virginia State Police Wednesday from the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Fla., where he was serving a 10-year sentence on mail fraud convictions in connection with a coal-selling scheme in Pittsburgh.
If convicted, Morris could receive at least a 20-year sentence on the 10 securities charges alone, Soulier said. The maximum sentence for a grand larceny conviction is 20 years.
The alleged coal-selling scheme was described by officials familiar with the case as a "boiler room" operation, a business consisting primarily of an office, desks and telephones. Individual investments, they said, averaged between $4,000 and $10,000.
Motions in the case are scheduled to be heard next Thursday. Stanton Levinson, a Pittsburgh attorney who will represent Morris, said he will argue that a trial in Arlington would constitute "double jeopardy" for Morris, who was convicted on similar charges in Pittsburgh in 1981.
"We think it's very unfair for him to now be tried in the state of Virginia," Levinson said.
The North American Coal Exchange Inc. has been the subject of investigation by Virginia State Police, Arlington police and other law enforcement officials for several years. In 1981, the Virginia State Corporation Commission ordered NACE, then at 2304 Wilson Blvd., to halt phone bank activities aimed at potentially unwary investors.
In May 1982, Arlington police searched NACE offices located at 4736 Lee Hwy. and seized a long-distance telephone, a phone call log book, business cards and purchase order confirmation forms and other papers belonging to the business, according to a warrant filed in Arlington Circuit Court.
Last January, two alleged victims filed suit against Morris in Arlington Circuit Court, claiming that "NACE was not, in fact, a clearinghouse for the sale of coal, had no suppliers nor did it have any clients to purchase the coal."
The business "was, in fact, a 'boiler room' operation" in which Morris used "high pressure sales techniques to induce investors who were unsophisticated in the commodities market to invest in these purported 'deferred deliver' coal contracts," the suits continued.
A spokesman for the Commodity Futures Trading Commisison said "boiler room" schemes that purport to sell contracts on goods ranging from diamonds to precious metals "not all that unusual. It's becoming a more and more common type of fraud perpetuated on the public."
A special unit of the commission was created last year to cooperate with state law enforcement officials and consumer organizations in cracking down on such operations, the spokesman said.