A legend in northern Minnesota business is demanding that members of Congress act to imprison crooked financiers and CEOs for businesses practices that he says are to blame for the financial industry crisis that is spreading fear and anger among his fellow Americans.

Jeno F. Paulucci, the 90-year-old food entrepreneur and self-made multimillionaire from Duluth, said Thursday in an open letter to all senators and House members, "The American public is very, very upset -- mad -- about the Golden Parachute era of our CEOs."

Paulucci described Americans are "scared and angry. Many fear their life savings are gone -- their 401ks are dwindling down to nothing.

"I have vivid memories of actual experience from the days of the Great Depression," said the son of Italian immigrants who grew up on the Iron Range. "I know how bad it can get."

He said Americans want business leaders charged with crimes "if they give golden parachutes and multimillion-dollar salaries when a business is such that it does not support it."

Noting that he owns Republic Banks in northern Minnesota, Paulucci said some bankers are "giving the banking world a dirty name ... and should be jailed if they have "siphoned off millions or even billions of dollars."

Paulucci then went on to answer, "What the hell caused it all in the first place?"

"The administration wasn't watching what was going on and some dirty, crooked bankers got away with it and started this sub-prime lending including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The boards of directors of those two organizations should be charged with a criminal act."

Along with tougher laws on unscrupulous financial practices, the political independent who welcomed unions to his workforce said the nation needs "more regulation on the government's part."

Paulucci, a Hibbing High School graduate, is a storied entrepreneur of the food industry. In Duluth in the 1940s, he set up a hydroponic garden, grew bean sprouts and started packing chicken chow mein under the Chun King label. In 1967, he sold Chun King to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco for $63 million. He then turned to frozen pizza and pizza rolls, creating Jeno's Inc. He sold that company to Pillsbury in 1985 for about $150 million.

In 1990, started Luigino's Inc., which makes frozen entrees under the Michelina and Budget Gourmet brands.

--Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482