A cast of characters surrounded Tom Petters and the $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme.HOW IT WORKED: Investors gave money to Petters on the basis of forged purchase orders and sales invoices that made it appear as if consumer electronic goods were being purchased at a discount and resold to companies like Sam’s Club and Costco at a profit. In fact, the funds invested with Petters were used to finance his other business dealings, which included the likes of Sun Country Airlines and Polaroid, and to pay off earlier investors.
A look at the players then and now.
Tom Petters: The ultimate salesman who could “sell a ketchup popsicle to a lady wearing white gloves,” according to former employees. Sentenced to 50 years in prison on charges of money laundering, fraud and conspiracy. Currently at the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kan. Release date is April 25, 2052.*
Deanna Coleman: Petters’ confidant, one-time lover and right-hand assistant who blew the whistle to authorities and wore a hidden tape recorder just prior to the scheme’s collapse. Sentenced to 366 days in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Sent to a federal prison camp in Pekin, Ill. Released Aug. 26, 2011. Currently living in North Central Minnesota. Coleman provided government testimony in the criminal trials of Petters and hedge fund manager James Fry. She otherwise has avoided the spotlight and has declined interview requests.
Larry Reynolds: A Los Angeles businessman who led a double life in the federal witness protection program after he testified for the government against the New England mob earlier in his career. Sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Currently at in the federal prison at Terminal Island, Calif. Release date is Dec. 17, 2019.
Robert White: The document forger on whose office door Petters would sometime bang and yell “FBI!” just as a joke. Sentenced to 5 years in prison on one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering. Currently at the federal prison camp in Yankton, S.D. Release date is April 8, 2014.
Michael Catain: Ran a money laundering operation out of an office of his car wash in downtown Excelsior. Testified that he sent messages to Petters about a bountiful “cabbage crop” to signal the availability of cash. Sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison on one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Currently at the federal prison camp in Duluth. Release date is March 31, 2017.
James Wehmhoff: Tax accountant for Petters and Petters Group Worldwide. Told a packed courtroom at his guilty plea hearing that he “lost his way” when he joined the Petters operation. Sentenced to one year of home detention on one count of conspiracy to commit tax evasion and one count of aiding and assisting tax fraud.
Gregory Bell: Chicago hedge fund manager who helped prop Petters up in the final days and then tried to hide personal assets in an offshore account once the scam was over. Sentenced to six years in prison on one count of wire fraud. Currently assigned to the federal Community Corrections Office in Chicago. Release date is Jan. 5, 2014.