Tom Petters not only knew about a potential plea deal offer that would have landed him a 30-year federal prison sentence, but the multibillion-dollar Ponzi schemer also rejected it several times, a federal prosecutor and his former attorney claimed in a court filing on Monday.
More than 100 pages of documents, including e-mails and photocopies of Petters’ own handwritten notes, were presented to counter Petters’ claims that his former defense attorney, Jon Hopeman, failed to inform him of the potential offer.
Petters is serving 50 years in prison in Leavenworth, Kan., for masterminding the $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme.
Through a new defense attorney, Steven Meshbesher, Petters has asked the federal judge who presided over his trial to hold a new hearing that would allow him to plead guilty and receive the government’s purported lesser sentence.
In the filing, Hopeman provided several examples of his discussions with Petters about the tentative deal, which he said Petters rejected outright.
“Every time we discussed the government’s proposed 30-year cap of imprisonment, Mr. Petters rejected it,” Hopeman wrote in an affidavit. “The most Mr. Petters ever offered to serve in prison was 15 years. That is the only offer he ever permitted us to make.”
Meshbesher said he is reviewing the filing and must go over it with Petters before he responds. He has until June 24 to file a reply brief.
The affidavit details behind-the-scenes dealings among Petters, Hopeman and prosecutors after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kyle waived the attorney-client-privilege confidentiality link. Included in the filings is a June 2012 handwritten note from Petters that asks Hopeman for paperwork documenting the potential plea offer, saying, “I need something in writing showing 30 years was the best deal you could get or go to trial.”
The government points out that Petters’ current attorneys did not have access to the case file when Petters sent the letter, proving that he knew of the tentative proposal before trial.
Several of Hopeman’s notes detail how Petters repeatedly denied responsibility for the Ponzi scheme, claiming that it was operated by confidante Deanna Coleman and businessman Robert White. He proposed assisting the government in its investigation if he could receive the lighter sentence and a one-week furlough from jail to visit his family.
Claim brings sharp responses
In his response, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti said that not only was the 30-year offer tentative rather than formal, but that even if Hopeman had neglected to tell Petters about it, the argument would be moot because Petters has maintained his innocence.
“He cannot now establish that he was willing and capable before trial of entering guilty pleas on terms agreeable to the government, a defect fatal to his claim,” Marti wrote.
Hopeman wrote that although he discussed the tentative offer with Petters, he told Marti that “as a matter of personal pride, I could not advise Mr. Petters to plead guilty to a 30-year cap.
“In my view, pleading guilty to a 30-year cap would suggest that 30 years was an appropriate sentence,” Hopeman continued. “I felt that this was too much time. I informed Mr. Marti that my professional integrity would not allow me to recommend such an offer to Mr. Petters.”
In his filing, Marti also shot down claims by Petters that his lengthy sentence was “cruel and unusual,” citing that it is in step with those given to three other multibillion-dollar Ponzi schemers, including New York’s Bernie Madoff, who got 150-, 110- and 50-year sentences.
“Petters will say and do just about anything to avoid the consequences of his lies.” Marti wrote. “That trait remains today.”
Hopeman’s attorney, Christopher Madel said: “The Petters defense team did an exceptional job for Mr. Petters, and any allegation that they provided substandard representation is absurd.”