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Tom Petters

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Petters’ resentencing bid goes to judge

  • Article by: David Phelps
  • Star Tribune
  • November 5, 2013 - 8:29 PM

The fate of Tom Petters’ request for a new, reduced sentence is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle.

Attorneys for Petters and the U.S. government made their final arguments for and against a lesser sentence that Petters claims was on the table unbeknownst to him before his 2009 conviction and 50-year prison sentence.

It is uncertain when Kyle will rule. An evidentiary hearing was conducted two weeks ago and attorneys for both parties have submitted briefs on behalf of their differing positions, including the closing briefs, which were due by noon Tuesday.

The government’s six-page brief went directly to Petters’ character as perceived by federal prosecutors. “Tom Petters is a liar,” the government said.

“The evidence at trial and at the evidentiary hearing [last month] establish beyond all doubt the sad truth that Petters lies when he believes lying gains him a benefit,” acting U.S. Attorney John Marti and assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Rank said in their summary brief.

But Petters’ attorney, Steven Meshbesher, contends that Petters clearly demonstrated that defense attorneys for his 2009 trial failed to inform him that the government was willing to offer him a plea bargain with a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

“Nowhere in any of those [defense attorney] notes is it stated that the government’s offer of a 30-year sentencing cap was discussed with defendant Petters,” Meshbesher wrote.

Petters is serving a 50-year sentence for his role in masterminding a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme that included the purported purchase and sale of consumer electronic goods for a handsome profit when no goods existed.

Petters appeared before Kyle last month during a one-day hearing on his request for a reduced sentence during which he acknowledged for the first time that he was guilty of fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges for which he was convicted and asked for the mercy of the court in granting a new sentence.

Meshbesher said Petters lied about his innocence before, during and after his trial “because he was scared of a life sentence and, because he had been unaware of the government’s offer, felt he had no other choice.”

But Petters’ trial defense team, led by Minneapolis attorney Jon Hopeman, testified at last month’s hearing and in separate court filings that the only plea offer they received from federal prosecutors was an informal one that was explained to Petters on several occasions.

“Petters was neither willing nor capable of entering guilty pleas on terms agreeable to the government before trial (or at any time),” prosecutors said in their brief.

The basis for Petters’ claim for a new sentence is his contention that he received “ineffective assistance of counsel” from his defense team.

Such claims are generally difficult to prove.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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