An employee kept cameras trained on Ponzi suspect all the way to shiny Lexus in parking lot.
Never mind the feds -- now even Cub Foods is investigating Trevor Cook, a Minneapolis money manager accused by federal regulators of running a $190 million, international Ponzi scheme from the historic Van Dusen mansion.
Brandon Guertin, a 23-year-old loss prevention agent for the grocery store chain, testified in a federal court hearing Tuesday that he filmed Cook buying groceries last Saturday, because he knew Cook was under suspicion of using credit cards to buy thousands of dollars in untraceable gift cards. Cook's assets were frozen by court order in late November.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis is considering a motion by federal regulators who want Cook jailed for contempt for failing to cooperate with a receiver who's trying to locate and liquidate assets on behalf of more than 1,000 investors.
Guertin activated the store's video camera to monitor Cook's transaction Saturday.
"The thing that I noticed was that there was a large stack of $20 bills in his ... pocket that he pulled out to pay with," Guertin testified.
He zoomed in on Cook's face and onto the money as he peeled three $20 bills off to pay his bill of $53.82. After Cook left the store, Guertin activated a camera in the parking lot that showed him load the groceries into a shiny black Lexus LS430. He zoomed in on the license plate before Cook drove away.
R.J. Zayed, the receiver, quickly made a motion to seize the vehicle. Zayed has been stymied trying to locate assets, and Cook has refused to testify, invoking his right not to incriminate himself.
Zayed said the Lexus Cook was driving "is in the process" of being registered in the name of Cook's brother Graham.
Trevor Cook bought the car Oct. 2 for $20,000 from United Auto Group in Dallas, Texas. He paid $500 down through eBay, then wired the balance.
Davis said he'd consider a written motion to seize the car and ordered Cook not to dispose of it. "Do you understand that?" Davis asked.
"Yes, but it's not my car," Cook responded.
That's not the only thing Zayed wants.
Cook's wife, Gina, revealed in testimony Tuesday that he had given her a 2005 Lexus SUV and a watch that she kept in a safe deposit box. Zayed said he wanted those items as well. And he asked Davis to let him inspect a BMW that she testified was parked in their garage in Apple Valley.
Spouse takes the Fifth
Gina Cook tried to avoid testifying against her husband by invoking a marital privilege designed to protect communication between spouses. But government attorneys argued it didn't apply in a civil case. So she invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Her attorney, Eric Olson, said the government had declined to grant immunity for her testimony at the hearing.
Davis asked government attorneys if Gina Cook, like her husband, was a target of a federal grand jury investigation or if she is a "person of interest." Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Millenacker said she didn't know and couldn't answer if she did because of grand jury secrecy rules. But she said the office has a policy against granting immunity in receivership cases.
Davis allowed Gina Cook to invoke the Fifth Amendment on some questions but not others. Responding to questions from SEC attorney Justin Delfino, she said she married Cook on Dec. 26, 2002. She recently returned to work as a $60-an-hour consultant recruiting executives for Cargill. And though she testified that Cook gave her the Lexus SUV, Davis said she didn't have to say when or how much it cost. She said she didn't know who registered the BMW.
She confirmed that Target photographed her Dec. 4 at a checkout, purportedly using gift cards Cook had purchased.
Davis allowed her to refuse to answer questions about whether Cook had collections of watches, artwork or Faberge eggs. Nor did she have to say if he carried wads of cash, owned a boat or a submarine or received financial records at home.
Davis said he would rule on the receiver's seizure motion at a Jan. 28 hearing. With two other hearings in the case also scheduled before the end of the month, he quipped, "Is this going to be my case for life?"
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493