Vet admits lying to feds about Cook Ponzi loot

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2011 - 9:24 PM

The ex-Minnesota National Guardsman stashed coins and currency at the Mall of America.

An Iraq War veteran undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder pleaded guilty Monday in Minneapolis to lying to federal investigators who were searching for some of the loot from Trevor Cook's $194 million Ponzi scheme.

But Jon Greco, 40, of Minneapolis, denied knowing whether the $100,000 worth of coins and foreign currencies he had stashed in a locker last summer at the Mall of America belonged to Cook. He said he believed it belonged to his friend Graham Cook, the convicted fraudster's younger brother, who has not been charged in the Ponzi scheme.

Trevor Cook, 39, was sentenced in August to 25 years in federal prison for defrauding investors in a foreign currency investment scheme. Graham Cook, a computer technician, had worked for his brother.

Greco agreed to plead guilty to one of two counts of making "materially false statements" to federal investigators, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and substantial fines. Greco's attorney and federal prosecutors haven't agreed on the advisory sentencing guideline range, which they said could range from 0 to 16 months.

There's been no agreement on restitution, either. The government estimated that Greco's deception resulted in losses of between $70,000 and $120,000. Greco contends there was no loss at all.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Perzel attempted to lay out the basis for his plea when she asked Greco if he lied when he initially told investigators that the loot didn't belong to Trevor Cook.

"I did not, because I did not believe they were Trevor Cook's assets," Greco responded. "I did not know they had anything to do with Trevor Cook."

Greco's denial seemed on the verge of upending his plea agreement, because a judge cannot accept a guilty plea unless the facts show that a crime took place.

Last July, during a routine locker inspection, a mall security guard found a black duffel bag stuffed with 113 gold coins, eight platinum coins, 5.6 million Iraqi dinars, 18.75 million Turkish lira and small sums of Chinese, Canadian and Dominican currencies. Investigators got a tip from a former roommate of Greco's that he was holding money for Graham and Trevor Cook, and they interviewed him when he arrived at the mall to retrieve the loot.

Greco said he lied to investigators when he claimed that the money was his own. But he denied trying to provide cover for Trevor Cook.

Graham Cook had asked him to "hold" the money -- not to conceal it -- Greco said. He said in the past, Graham Cook had asked him to hold $10,000 for him and to dole it out as he needed it.

Perzel asked Greco if he ever came to understand that the money he was holding for Graham Cook actually came from the fraud scheme.

"He [Graham Cook] has not told me that whatsoever, so I'm not going to assume anything," he replied.

Greco began pacing as his attorney, John Baker, then had a brief discussion with Perzel. Baker said he believed that Greco's admission about lying to federal officers was sufficient to support a guilty plea.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked Greco if he believes his lies were "material" to their investigation.

"No, your honor," Greco answered.

But Greco then acknowledged that a jury might view things differently.

Davis asked if he was comfortable pleading guilty.

"Comfortable? No. But understanding what I'm doing? Yes," Greco said.

Greco, a former Minnesota National Guard member, said he's seeing a Department of Veterans Affairs psychologist for a war-induced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Davis thanked Greco for his service and said that the court's sentencing schedule would be adjusted to accommodate his psychological treatments.

"Many times, people don't understand what war does," Davis said. "The court will certainly take into consideration his war record."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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