Judge throws con man back into prison

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2011 - 9:06 PM

Gary Growden, an Apple Valley fraudster, failed to convince a judge that he's a changed man.

Gary Growden's vision of selling timeshares in a sun-baked Tuscany vineyard will have to mellow for at least three more years.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz ordered the 60-year-old Apple Valley con man back to prison Wednesday for what he called "numerous, egregious violations" of previous orders that barred Growden from wheeling and dealing while under court supervision.

Schiltz agreed to Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon's request for the maximum sentence allowed: two years in prison, followed by a year of supervised release.

Growden was first sentenced in July 2007 to 27 months in prison on two counts of wire fraud, followed by three years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay $385,000 in restitution to his victims in a fraudulent investment scheme.

Growden's latest troubles materialized last June after the Star Tribune reported that after he got out of prison in 2009, he went right back to assembling questionable deals despite a court order that he have no fiduciary responsibilities.

Schiltz said he was especially angry to read that Growden claimed to have pleaded guilty to avoid a potentially longer sentence, and that doing so "doesn't mean you did it." At a hearing shortly after the article appeared, the judge restarted Growden's three years of supervision and spelled out that he was not to engage in any activities that involved borrowing or lending money or counseling others on such deals.

But Growden apparently couldn't pass up a chance to sell "fractional shares" in an Italian winery, and his e-mails revealed that he was looking for investors to buy it for 13 million euros. One of his business associates is a Texas man who also has been convicted of fraud, Schiltz noted.

Growden claimed in his e-mails to have a flush bank account, several hundred thousand dollars in pending commissions and a $2 million "judgment" due to him from the Department of Justice. Yet he reported to his probation officer in December that he had just $25 in the bank and was earning $250 a month.

Growden admitted to violating the terms of his release from prison, but he insisted that he has learned his lesson.

"I know people can change, and I have changed," he said. "Two to three weeks in Sherburne County [jail] can certainly change you by itself."

Growden said he got religion in jail, and asked Schiltz to sentence him to community service so that he can spend time with his family and grandchildren.

Dixon said Growden's prior 27-month prison sentence had no effect on him, so there was no reason to believe that three weeks in jail would have done so. Schiltz agreed.

"Mr. Growden is still denying that he committed a crime despite standing before me and admitting that he took people's money," the judge said, reading selected passages from Growden's e-mails as proof.

In one, Growden referred to the story last June that landed him back in court as "nothing but newspaper hype," and indicated that he was cleared of the charges.

"Mr. Growden is incredibly dishonest. He lies to everyone," Schiltz said. "I've seen no indication that Mr. Growden feels sorry for his crimes."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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