Clerical goof adds hassle to victims of Cook fraud

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2012 - 9:18 PM

Overpayments to some have temporarily frozen distribution of assets from Ponzi scheme.

Trevor Cook

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More than 90 victims of Trevor Cook's fraud scheme have been victimized again, this time by a handful of fellow investors in his $194 million Ponzi scheme, according to the court-appointed receiver who's been recovering assets in the case.

The problems started in the U.S. District Court clerk's office, which has been helping the receiver by sending out periodic "distribution" checks to the 723 defrauded investors. Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ordered the clerk's office to help so the receiver wouldn't have to hire someone to administer the checks at the expense of the victims.

That worked well until someone in the clerk's office apparently goofed when preparing a third set of distribution checks at the end of March. As a result, 92 investors got underpayments and 91 got overpayments.

"Although it was an administrative error, the issue obviously had a very real impact on many of the victims who have already been through so much. Unfortunately, I have limited power to correct the situation," said receiver R.J. Zayed, an attorney with Carlson, Caspers, Vandenburgh & Lindquist in Minneapolis.

The U.S. Treasury Department, which cut the checks, won't make up the deficits to the underpaid victims until all of the overpaid victims return their overpayments, and a handful have resisted doing so, Zayed explained.

"This has created an incredible and sad hardship for those victims who received less than their pro-rata share. They are being victimized -- again," he said.

Cook, 39, of Apple Valley, admitted to running a massive international investment scheme that defrauded mostly elderly retirees. He is serving 25 years in federal prison. Three of his former associates are currently on trial in Davis' courtroom.

Bill Krisko of Bloomington, who invested about $1.5 million in the scheme, said he and his wife, Vicki, were expecting a check for more than $10,500 and they were shocked when they received only about $1,100.

Krisko said a woman in the clerk's office admitted an error was made but said the clerk's hands were tied by Treasury Department rules.

"I pleaded that we need the money to live on," Krisko said. "Nobody seems to care."

Richard Sletten, the clerk of the court, said he has kept Davis informed about the "unfortunate and unintentional error" that took place with the third distribution.

"The court is working to rectify this situation as expeditiously as possible," Sletten said. "I apologize to the victims who were impacted. I anticipate this distribution error will be resolved in the very near future."

Zayed said both his office and the clerk's office has informed everyone who received more than their pro-rata share that they must return the extra money immediately so that it can be redistributed correctly. Nearly all have done so.

"Unfortunately, a handful of other victims have taken advantage of the mistake and are refusing to return the extra money that they received," Zayed said. "What they must understand is that by keeping the extra money that does not rightfully belong to them they are now victimizing other victims. The holdouts should also understand that the United States Treasury Department will collect the money back from them one way or another -- and that is not an outcome that will be good for anybody."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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