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 17,098.45 18.88 0.11%
Nasdaq 4,580.27 22.58 0.50%
S&P 500 2,003.37 6.63 0.33%
Treasuries 2.34 0.01 0.39%
Data as of 5:05pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.09 0.08 0.50%
Apple Inc 102.50 0.25 0.24%
Intel Corp 34.92 0.27 0.78%
Facebook Inc 74.82 0.96 1.31%
General Electric Co 25.98 -0.03 -0.12%
Data as of Aug 29

Sections

The deal would value Vice at $2.5 billion. The online media company would also create content for the cable network, delivering a wider audience. More

Gas prices are falling to nearly $3 a gallon in some parts of South Carolina, and that will soon be common in much of the country. More

Chinese tech giant Alibaba is gearing up for a major market debut in New York that could set new records. Here are three things you need to know in advance of their big splash. More

The Coolest Cooler is the most successful Kickstarter campaign in the site's history, raising $13.3 million from over 62,000 backers. More

Five CNNMoney readers share stories about saving that you can learn from: What they would do differently if they had another chance. 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.