The specter of Tom Petters is likely to be around Minnesota’s federal court system for the foreseeable future.
Already a fixture in district and bankruptcy court for going on six years, neither the criminal case that put Petters in prison for 50 years nor his corporate bankruptcy appear near final resolution.
Representing himself with the assistance of a fellow inmate in the role of “jailhouse lawyer,” Petters has peppered the court with documents seeking to set aside his current 50-year sentence for a shorter one.
In his most recent filings last week, Petters requested to be released from Leavenworth on bail pending a ruling on his motions for a new sentence and a new judge in his criminal case.
Since Petters has never been granted bail at any stage of the criminal case against him stemming from a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme he orchestrated, approval of his most recent motion is considered a long shot at best.
Meanwhile, several clawback motions in the Petters corporate bankruptcy continue to wind their way through bankruptcy and now U.S. District Court.
Upward of $500 million is at stake for the bankruptcy estate as the court-appointed trustee attempts to reclaim so-called “false profits” from organizations that invested with Petters through Petters Co. Inc. during the heart of the decadelong Ponzi scheme.
But a ruling in bankruptcy court that consolidated the clawback proceedings against several investors into one case is now being appealed in federal court on the grounds that consolidation of separate entities under one umbrella is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the bankruptcy trustee last week filed a motion to take the District Court appeals directly to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an attempt to knock off one step in the appeals process.
Whatever the outcome of courtroom machinations, the clawback cases are not likely to be resolved quickly.
“We’ve probably got another couple of years,” said bankruptcy trustee Doug Kelley.
The Petters Ponzi scheme was built on a ruse that investor funds were being used to purchase consumer electronic goods at wholesale prices for resale to big box retailers at a profit. However, no such goods existed and funds from new investors were used to pay returns to old investors.
The whole operation collapsed in 2008 after one of Petters’ key lieutenants in the fraud, Deanna Coleman, went to federal authorities and exposed the operation.
Petters was one of 13 who were either convicted or pleaded guilty to charges for their various roles in the Ponzi operation, from forging documents to running bogus money laundering facilities to misleading investors.
Petters was found guilty on 20 counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy by a jury in 2009 and sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle.
In 2013, Petters sought a new sentence commensurate with an unofficial plea bargain discussed by federal prosecutors with Petters defense team after his arrest in 2008. However, Kyle ruled that the plea offer of a 30-year maximum sentence was never formalized and that Petters gave no indication that he would have accepted it in exchange for a guilty plea.
Earlier this month, Petters renewed his motion on a “pro se” basis, acting as his own lawyer with the help of his jailhouse lawyer, and also requested the removal of Kyle from the case.
Acting U.S. Attorney John Marti swiftly replied that Petters was engaging in “creative pleading” with the help of another inmate not authorized to practice law.
“These motions are one more con,” Marti wrote in a brief. “Once again, but perhaps not for the last time, the court should deny Petters’ motions seeking relief from his sentence.”