Tom Petters gets 50 years for Ponzi scheme

By Annalyn Censky, staff writer


ST. PAUL, Minn.(CNNMoney.com) -- Twin Cities businessman Tom Petters will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for orchestrating a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme -- one of the largest in U.S. history second only to Bernie Madoff.

Judge Richard Kyle sentenced Petters to 50 years in prison on Thursday, noting that he wasn't convinced that if given a more lenient sentence, Petters wouldn't commit further crimes. For Petters, who is 52-years-old, the sentence likely means he will live out the rest of his life behind bars.

The sentence is the longest term of imprisonment ever ordered in a financial fraud case in Minnesota history.

Petters and his business partners at Petters Company, Inc. defrauded billions of dollars and property by convincing investors to give the company money to purchase electronics to be sold to big-box retailers, such as Costco and Sam's Club. Instead, Petters diverted the funds to make payments to other investors, fund his other businesses and finance his extravagant lifestyle.

Many of Petter's co-conspirators have pleaded guilty for their roles in the scheme, but have yet to be sentenced.

The FBI and IRS began investigating Petters in December 2008 after co-conspirator Deanna Coleman reported that she had been aiding Petters in a multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme for ten years.

In December 2009, a federal jury convicted Petters of orchestrating a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme. The judge found him guilty on 20 counts including wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracies to commit further fraud.

Speaking for about 40 minutes, Petters' attorney Paul Engh argued Thursday that justice could be done with a lesser sentence of 4 to 12 years. The law has always differentiated between crimes that take away life, and those that take away money, he said.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors argued for a prison sentence of 335 years. U.S. Assistant Attorney Joseph Dixon said Petters' crimes "devastated lives" and "strike at the heart of this economic system." The government expects more than 500 victims were affected by the scheme.

In Petters' last remarks before receiving the sentence, he said was truly regretful for all who have been hurt, and he plans to work the "balance of my life" to repay them.

CNNMoney.com's Poppy Harlow contributed to this report. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,982.59 22.02 0.13%
Nasdaq 4,444.91 -4.65 -0.10%
S&P 500 1,978.91 0.57 0.03%
Treasuries 2.49 0.02 0.89%
Data as of 11:21pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Apple Inc 99.02 1.35 1.38%
Facebook Inc 74.92 -0.27 -0.36%
Bank of America Corp... 15.50 -0.09 -0.58%
Dollar Tree Inc 54.87 0.65 1.20%
Family Dollar Stores... 75.74 15.08 24.86%
Data as of 4:03pm ET

Sections

Herbalife shares tumble after the maker of nutritional supplements reports earnings that fall short of analysts' estimates. More

New annual report from U.S. government shows the long-term prognosis for Medicare has improved thanks to slower health spending, while the outlook for Social Security remains unchanged. More

Online dating site OkCupid found its users were more likely to have conversations when it told them they were more compatible than in reality. More

Actor-founded This Bar Saves Lives had Hollywood connections, but learned Start-Up 101 the hard way. More

Steve Mason, a pastor from California, inherited more than $100,000 in student loan debt when his 27-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2009. With interest and late penalties, the debt has since ballooned to $200,000. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.