Jason "Bo" Beckman took the witness stand Thursday in federal court to defend himself against charges that he conspired with convicted fraudster Trevor Cook in a $194 million Ponzi scheme, cheated a couple in their 90s out of nearly $4 million on the sale of life insurance policies, and tried to defraud the National Hockey League in a failed effort to buy a piece of the Minnesota Wild.
His attorney, Douglas Altman, told jurors that the 42-year-old Plymouth money manager would do all of that, and more.
Beckman and two former business associates, Gerald Durand and Patrick Kiley, have been on trial in Minneapolis since April 19 in connection with their promotion of a fraudulent currency investment program Cook created. The government rested its case against the men Thursday afternoon.
"We're about 90 percent of the way home," Altman told the jury in a brief opening statement. He said they'd learn that Beckman was a brilliant money manager with a wealthy clientele when a business partner named Christopher Pettengill introduced him to Cook and Durand in 2006 to talk about the currency program.
"He truly was the goose that laid the golden egg," Altman said.
Altman said the evidence would show that while Beckman was smart enough to outperform the stock market year after year, he was "easily duped" by his associates.
Cook and Pettengill have pleaded guilty in the case. Cook is serving 25 years in prison. Pettengill testified for the government and awaits sentencing.
"At critical moments, Mr. Beckman was kept in the dark by these two men," Altman said. "It is altogether possible to act like a conspirator and not be one," he added. "If you don't have the knowledge of what's going on, you're not a conspirator."
With the jury out of the room, Assistant U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin warned Beckman that if he went through with his plans to testify, he could expect to be grilled about his resignation from the U.S. Air Force Academy for dishonesty, and about his mother's allegation that he forged her signature on student loan applications at the University of Vermont.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked Altman if his client has been fully informed about what might happen under cross-examination.
"Mr. Beckman and I have had a number of frank discussions about him taking the stand, and it's his wish," Altman said. Beckman confirmed that he wanted to waive his right against self-incrimination and testify.
Beckman climbed into the witness chair with stack of manila folders about 18 inches high. He told jurors he graduated from Anoka High in 1988, where he was involved in theater, band, hockey, soccer and tennis. He then attended the Air Force Academy for a year and a half, where was honorably discharged after he voluntarily withdrew "for conduct incompatible with exemplary standards of personal conduct, character and integrity."
In an interview last July, Beckman explained why he was asked to quit. "A bunch of us went out one night and we drank too much and crashed a car."
Prosecutors said in court filings that he was disenrolled for dishonesty.
Beckman eventually graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in economics and political philosophy. He traced his job history in the financial services industry, saying he began "running money" for clients in 2002. Juror have heard from other witnesses who cast doubt on that claim. It's a key point because Beckman has claimed stellar returns since that time in his marketing materials.
Beckman said although he's an equities specialist, he was drawn into the currency program in 2007 after meeting with Cook, Durand, Pettengill and James Pieron, a software developer who claimed to have special access to banks. Cook explained that his program had an advantage by working with banks that comply with Islamic Shariah law, which prohibits charging interest.
"I didn't know what Shariah meant," Beckman said.
But he said his concerns about the risks of foreign currency trading were allayed by Cook's explanation of the program and his trust in Pettengill, whom he considered a friend.
"At the end of the day, his methodology is not that complex," Beckman told the jurors. "It's pretty simple."
On another matter, Beckman contradicted the testimony of one of his investors. Charlotte Olson, 92, of Spring Lake Park, denied authorizing him to liquidate some of her stocks to buy $2.5 million in shares in his company, Oxford Private Client Group. Beckman insists that she did.
Prosecutors will soon get a chance to cross-examine him.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493