Stu Voigt lined up at tight end for the Minnesota Vikings for more than 10 years followed by a stint as a radio broadcaster. This week, Voigt and a business partner will stand trial on criminal charges in connection with his post-NFL business career.
Voigt and Jeffrey Gardner are charged in what federal prosecutors call a yearslong scheme to bilk investors who thought their money went toward real estate development that would fetch healthy annual returns.
Instead, Gardner is accused of using the money invested in his Hennessey Financial LLC to repay prior investors and other debts — including an alimony payment to his ex-wife, according to documents filed in court.
“Hennessey was not a profitable ongoing business as investors were being told, but instead amounted to a Ponzi scheme,” according to the indictment.
Voigt and Gardner also are accused of omitting important financial information while securing a line of credit from a Bloomington bank where Voigt served as chairman.
The U.S. attorney’s office charged Voigt in a superseding indictment last April, less than a year after Voigt settled a $1 million lawsuit brought in 2011 by former teammate Ron Yary. Yary claimed Voigt conned him and three others out of $1 million. Longtime pro wrestling announcer Ken Resnick was also part of that suit, along with his late mother and an elderly man who lost his life savings.
Gardner is charged with four counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, while both he and Voigt are charged with four counts of bank fraud and three counts of false statements in a loan application. Both are likely to testify in a trial that could span several weeks.
“Everything Stu did was in good faith,” said Andrew Birrell, one of Voigt’s lawyers. “Stu lost all his money in this, and the government is telling people he got all his money out of it, and that’s false.”
Memory loss related to concussions that Voigt, 67, suffered during his playing days may also factor into the trial. Attorneys for Voigt may call a doctor to testify about Voigt’s cognitive abilities if he has trouble recalling events while on the stand. Prosecutors initially objected to the testimony over concerns the doctor would describe Voigt’s mental state at the time of the alleged criminal activity.
At a pretrial hearing Friday, prosecutors narrowed the indictment by dismissing all but seven charges against Voigt and also an earlier charge against Gardner for a wire transfer of $1.6 million that they said was the proceeds of unlawful activity. U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz also ordered that no references be made to prior court cases — such as a securities fraud case involving an attorney who helped run an investment fund that lent money to Hennessey — without his permission.
Jury selection starts Monday. Prosecutors will seek to hold Voigt responsible for fraud against First Commercial Bank of Bloomington and Gardner responsible for fraud both against the bank and his companies’ investors. They allegedly failed to disclose the truth about Gardner’s finances, creditworthiness and plans for the borrowed funds.
Prosecutors say Gardner painted a rosy picture of Hennessey to investors as he knew it was failing. He also allegedly hid income and formed a company that obtained Hennessey assets he had presented as security for the loans from First Commercial Bank, depriving it of collateral.
Voigt was banned from banking and previously paid a $15,000 fine to settle accusations of illegal activity while running the bank, which was shut down and sold in 2012.
Victims may testify
According to documents filed in court, Gardner’s real estate and financial companies profited handsomely in his first few years doing business with Voigt: Gardner took more than $3 million in distributions from one land development company, and Voigt earned over $1 million on loans to Gardner and his companies through 2006. Soon after, Gardner began soliciting individual investors for Hennessey to allow his businesses to grow.
Resnick, a longtime friend of Voigt's, and his elderly mother invested more than $750,000 in Gardner’s companies. Resnick family friend Irving Braverman, a World War II veteran working an $8-per-hour part-time job as a mall movie theater ticket taker, also became entangled.
Braverman liquidated his retirement savings account and sold his condominium to invest $200,000 in Hennessey, according to court documents. None of that money, prosecutors say, went toward real estate loans. After losing his and his wife’s retirement savings, Braverman, now 90, still works three days a week at the theater.