A federal jury awarded investment victims of Tom Petters $3.5 million in clawback money this week.

The money is expected to go to about 30 creditors of the Petters Co. Inc. bankruptcy estate, according to federal court documents. Those creditors are expected to turn over the money to roughly 100 entities, including teacher pension funds, investment firms and other investors who lost money as a result of Petters' fraud.

Petters is serving a 50-year prison sentence for his part in an elaborate Ponzi scheme that pretended to take investors' money to buy retail inventory, but instead used the money to pay off his earlier investors and friends and to live a rich lifestyle.

The scheme unwound in 2008 when a Petters business associate confessed to federal authorities that the business was largely a sham.

The Minnetonka-based Petters Co. filed for bankruptcy in late 2008. Tom Petters was convicted on 20 counts of mail and wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy in early December 2009 for his role directing the $3.65 billion scheme.

The latest trial in the clawback case, overseen by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson, began last month. Jurors on Tuesday issued their verdict.

"I would estimate there are over 100 different entities and investment organizations who will in turn get this money," said Dorsey & Whitney partner J Jackson on Friday.

The Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney represented the trust of the Petters Co. estate.

Jackson noted that the $3.5 million jury award was the first of many Petters clawback cases to go to trial. While some victims have settled, there are still about 10 cases that are expected to see trial.

"Because this was a Ponzi scheme, the people who invested early tended to make money. But those in the scheme who invested close to the time the scheme collapsed lost money," Jackson said. "So the Chapter 11 bankruptcy trust or plan of liquidation is pursuing recovery of those funds from those who profited from the Ponzi scheme."

Chapter 11 Trustee Doug Kelley commenced over 150 clawback lawsuits, or bankruptcy adversary proceedings, to recover other profits and employee bonuses received by Petters' earliest investors or executives.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725