The repercussions from what authorities have described as a mammoth Ponzi scheme headed by Wayzata businessman Tom Petters has hit tiny Williston, N.D. -- population 12,500.

A federal judge overseeing the assets of several individuals and businesses caught up in the alleged $3.5 billion scheme issued an order Thursday approving the sale of three Williston apartment complexes.

The apartments belong to Frank Vennes Jr., a close associate of Petters who made millions by referring investors to him in exchange for a fee. Vennes has not been charged, but his assets were placed into a receivership, as were the assets of Petters and two other associates who have pleaded guilty in the case.

According to the order filed Thursday in Minneapolis by U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, the pending sale involves Century Apartments, Highland Manor Apartments and 18th Street Apartments. Terms were not disclosed.

A stipulation between Vennes, several business entities he formed to manage the apartments, and receiver Gary Hansen were placed under seal until 30 days after the deal closes. Hansen said that's a routine procedure when a prospective buyer is completing a due diligence investigation.

Proceeds from the sale will go into the receivership account. On Dec. 22, Hansen filed a report saying it had a balance of about $3.93 million. His next report is due at the end of this month.

Vennes, who did time in 1987 on money laundering, drug and firearms charges, was described in federal affidavits as a facilitator who persuaded five major investors to put $1.2 billion in companies controlled by Petters. Vennes, 51, of Shorewood, got more than $28 million in commissions, according to investigators. He owned property in Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio and Florida. His attorney, Jim Volling, declined to comment Thursday.

Petters, 51, faces 20 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. He maintains his innocence and says he'll fight the charges. To date, four of Petters' associates have pleaded guilty to related charges, and his accountant pleaded guilty to tax charges.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493