Attorneys for convicted swindler Tom Petters on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the former businessman's 2009 conviction and 50-year prison sentence on the grounds that he was not allowed to fully question the witnesses against him.
The high court motion, known as a petition for a writ of certiorari, represents Petters' last avenue to reverse the criminal process that took him from a sprawling Lake Minnetonka home to a prison cell in Leavenworth, Kan.
If the court denies the petition, which asserts that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated, the appeals process is over. If it grants the writ, there will be briefs and oral arguments on the questions of law.
Petters asserts that his trial judge, U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, prevented Petters from exposing the criminal background of one of his co-defendants, Larry Reynolds, who had been in the government's witness protection program for previous crimes.
The petition also says Petters' sentence was disproportionate to those of his confederates in the $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme, including Reynolds, who received a sentence just shy of 11 years, and whistleblower Deanna Coleman, who served a year in prison.
The petition says Reynolds and Coleman stole large amounts of money during the fraud "unbeknownst to Mr. Petters," a claim Petters made in his defense during the trial.
An appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on similar grounds was denied late last year.
Criminal law professor Ted Sampsell-Jones said in an interview Wednesday the chance of Petters having his petition granted are slim given the thousands of petitions that come before the court each year.
"It's not impossible, but it's a very low percentage," said Sampsell-Jones, who teaches at William Mitchell College of Law. "You're literally running a camel through the eye of a needle."
The 15-year Ponzi scheme that operated under Petters' direction involved loans from investors to purportedly purchase consumer electronic good that actually did not exist. Loans from new investors were used to pay off loans from early investors, creating the image of a successful business operation.
Today, bankruptcy trustees in two locations -- St. Paul and Miami -- are suing investors who profited during the scheme to recover their so-called false profits.
David Phelps • 612-673-7269