Cook's fraud relied on a quirky crew

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2012 - 4:00 PM

Some of the highlights from Minnesota's second-largest Ponzi scheme.

Federal investigators, regulators, lawyers and court personnel intimately familiar with Trevor Cook's $194 million Ponzi scheme say privately that it's more interesting than most fraud cases, and not just because of its size and complexity.

They cite the quirky cast of characters who ran the scheme from the historic Van Dusen mansion in Minneapolis and from a large Burnsville residence, and their many escapades in the United States and abroad, including Panama, Switzerland and the Middle East.

The six-week trial that concluded Tuesday with the conviction of three of Cook's cronies revealed fascinating tidbits in thousands of e-mails, recordings and previously undisclosed depositions.

Some of the highlights follow.

Connection in coins

Before moving into Ponziland, convicted fraudsters Trevor Cook, Patrick Kiley, Gerald Durand and Jason "Bo" Beckman each had worked at a Bloomington coin company, though not all at the same time.

Strip joint personnel

Cook and Durand also shared a longstanding interest in strippers, according to public records and trial testimony.

They were charged in 1999 in connection with an assault on an escort at a Bloomington hotel. Cook injured one of two women in an argument over her fee when he tore a gold necklace from her neck. Police later found it in the room's toilet tank. Federal prosecutors deemed the incident too old to present to the jury in the Ponzi trial.

Jurors did hear from a bathroom attendant whom Durand had hired from a Minneapolis strip joint to work as a salesman. But they never got to hear from Itona Onoue, a former "exotic dancer" hired as Cook's secretary. Onoue, who was on the list of potential witnesses, told the Star Tribune in 2010 that she had "a physical relationship" with Cook in the office and spent a lot of time running out to buy booze for office parties.

Sources say that a midget "Chippendale" stripper entertained guests at one of the last parties at the mansion. Investigators recovered photos, but they never made it into evidence.

Antics at the mansion

Cook admired gangsters, according to his friends and associates. A portrait of Al Capone and several Al Pacino movie posters hung in his bathroom at the mansion.

Cook and his brother, Graham, who worked with him, were notorious drunks, according to Durand. He told federal regulators that he considered Cook a "savant," though, because he regularly took out life insurance on Graham, betting that he would drink himself to death at any moment.

Beckman says he steered clear of the carousing at the mansion, though his sidekick, Eric Erickson, often hired strippers, according to one witness. Beckman also remained home when Durand, Cook and others traveled to Europe, Panama, Las Vegas, Nev., and other locales. Witnesses said Beckman's wife, Hollie, wouldn't let him go.

Everyone agrees that Kiley was particularly frugal. Though he wears a toupee, he cut his remaining hair with a "Flowbee" vacuum device and was upset when the court-appointed receiver confiscated it when the mansion was seized in 2009.

Kiley's interests

Prosecutors argued that Kiley was motivated not by money, but by a desire to be a bigshot on the radio. What they didn't say is that two of Kiley's brothers and a brother-in-law all had successful radio careers. One of his two ex-wives says he was fiercely jealous of them.

Court documents indicate that Kiley did have some shares of stock coming to him. But Cook told his associates that Kiley would die soon, and he would inherit it.

Finding God

People who've spoken recently with Cook say he claims to have found God in prison.

A former salesman in his Ponzi scheme, Jerry Watkins, found Him first. Watkins, another former coin dealer, was convicted in 2007 in a separate, church-based Ponzi scheme. While awaiting sentencing in that case, he went to work pitching Cook's scheme. Watkins was sentenced to prison in February 2009 and died of natural causes in November 2010, shortly after his release to a half-way house.

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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