Defense seeks new trial in alleged Ponzi scheme-turned-murder plot

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2012 - 9:28 PM

Attorney just now received key statement from government witness.

A Ponzi scheme that has suddenly veered into an alleged murder plot among co-defendants has at least one attorney seeking a new trial for his client.

On Friday, Brian Toder, the attorney for Gerald Durand, received a key statement from federal prosecutors by a government witness in which Durand is accused of planning the death of Jason "Bo" Beckman in order to collect $2.5 million from his life insurance policy. The statement was taken five months before Durand's trial, but Toder never received a copy of it until this week.

In his motion for a new trial, Toder said the prosecution violated a requirement to produce the witness statement after they testified. The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.

The statement was given Nov. 2 by Christopher Pettengill, who pleaded guilty and became a key witness for the government. He, Durand, Beckman and Patrick Kiley will be sentenced for their roles in the state's second-largest Ponzi scheme Jan. 3.

The $194 million Ponzi scheme was run by Trevor Cook, who received a 25-year sentence. The bogus currency-investment scheme bilked more than 700 investors nationwide, mostly retirees.

This week, the U.S. attorney's office filed a surprise motion to hold a hearing before the sentences are handed down to present their evidence about the murder plot. Toder filed his own motion asking U.S. District Judge Michael Davis to deny the hearing, but the judge has agreed to it. Toder said the hearing gives Pettengill one more chance to tell lies, which he says he did frequently throughout his trial.

Toder's new trial motion said the government violated the Jencks Act, which requires a government witness statement be given to the defense. Toder said the omission of Pettengill's statement on the murder plot "went to the heart of Mr. Durand's defense." He described Pettengill as the government's star witness.

In Pettengill's statement to the FBI, he said Durand told him during a conversation that Durand knew people who would kill Beckman. Pettengill said it was a funny joke, but "Durand said he was dead serious," according to the statement.

Durand said he would split the money with Pettengill. At that point, Pettengill said he was leaving and that Durand was scaring him, according to the statement.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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