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Sloppy signature claim doesn't work for man accused of trying to swindle Petters' lawyer

  • December 15, 2008 - 9:25 PM

A man accused of trying to swindle Tom Petters' lawyer tried a novel defense Monday, claiming a sloppy signature from a judge should set him free.

Derrick Riddle is charged with theft by swindle in a complaint signed Oct. 24. But he claimed the judge's signature was illegible on the complaint so the charge should be dropped.

That sent Hennepin County District Judge Mark Wernick scrambling. He sent an e-mail to fellow judges Monday afternoon asking whether any of them remembered signing the complaint charging Riddle.

"The defendant claims he was not properly charged because he cannot determine which judge signed the complaint," Wernick wrote in the e-mail. "Does anyone remember signing this complaint?"

Riddle is accused of asking Petters' lawyer Jon Hopeman for $250,000. The complaint alleges Riddle told Hopeman the money would go to pay off the judge in the Petters' case. Hopeman alerted federal authorities, and Riddle was investigated and charged.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Tom Fabel was able to solve the mystery, telling the court that Judge Laurie Miller was the signee. Wernick denied Riddle's motion for dismissal. He said the charging document appeared to be "regular." Jury selection is in progress, and the trial is expected to start today.

Tom Petters has entered a not-guilty plea to a 20-count federal indictment that accuses him of a wide-ranging scheme that bilked his investors out of $3.5 billion. He is expected to go to trial next year.

Petters, the owner of Sun Country Airlines and Polaroid as well as a chain of discount merchandise stores bearing his name, has remained jailed without bail since his arrest Oct. 3.

ROCHELLE OLSON

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