In reality, prosecutors say, he didn't own any oil and simply lined his pockets with the investors' cash.
Harley also tried to deposit a pair of $500 million checks he said were issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, documents said.
Harley said all his business dealings had been legitimate and his company owned the oil.
Harley, 68, was indicted by a federal grand jury this week on 23 counts of fraud and false statements. He does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment Friday. Messages were left with his wife and with a New Jersey agent for his company.
In the 1990s, Harley and his wife ran a bogus AIDS clinic that charged patients hundreds of dollars for fraudulent ozone enemas. The couple swindled people out of about $300,000, most of it from investors who bought stock in the company. Harley was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
Harley's oil scheme began in 1999 and went on for 13 years, according to court documents.
Harley said his business, RJH & Co. Inc., was a "vertically held, integrated, privately held holding company owning, controlling, leasing, developing, and administering assets in commercial and residential real estate, petroleum products, and commodities," charging documents said. Harley said RJH held "unrestricted bond power" over Fed instruments worth more than $700 billion, documents said.
The FBI took an interest after Harley and his wife were sued in 2009 in Lehigh County Court. An investor claimed he gave them $239,500 and was promised more than $1 million in return. The investor won a $1.1 million judgment.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Harley faced up to 20 years in prison on each of the most serious fraud counts.