Frank Vennes Jr., a key financial conduit between multiple hedge funds and the Ponzi scheme of former businessman Tom Petters, is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea nearly two years after the fact.
In motions filed in U.S. District Court, Vennes argues that both his defense attorney and federal prosecutors induced him into signing a plea agreement based on the false assertion that a sentence leaner than the 15 years he received would be sought.
In a response filed this week, assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Svendsen called the claims "baseless" and "inherently incredible."
Similarly, Vennes' defense attorney James Volling, who has since withdrawn from the case, rebutted Vennes's version of events leading up to his guilty plea including the claim that he threatened to withdraw from the case unless Vennes signed a plea agreement.
"At no time did I or any member of the defense team ever say or suggest to Mr. Vennes that we would withdraw as counsel if he did not plead guilty," Volling said in court documents. "Our team was energetically getting ready for trial."
Vennes, who entered a guilty plea to two criminal charges in February 2013, says he was told by Volling that the government would recommend a shorter sentence based on lack of culpability in the Petters fraud.
"After I received my sentence I was stunned," Vennes said in one of his motions. "I had been waiting for the government to fulfill its promises."
Vennes is seeking a court hearing on his sentencing issue and the right to collect evidence, including e-mails and other correspondence and notes between himself, Volling and prosecutors in an effort to prove his version of events.
The government opposes the request.
"Vennes has fabricated wholly incredible claims against his defense attorney and the government in an effort to avoid the just consequences of his massive fraud scheme," Svendsen wrote.
Vennes, a convicted felon, was the middleman between hedge funds based in Minnesota and Florida and Petters. It was through Vennes that the Petters operation obtained billions of dollars from investors who thought they were financing the purchase and sale of consumer electronic goods.
Vennes used the hedge funds as a financial resource because his criminal conviction made it difficult for him to obtain conventional financing.
The born-again Christian, who sometimes used religion to attract investors, pleaded guilty to charges of securities fraud and unlawful monetary activity.
Prosecutors said Vennes and the hedge fund managers misled investors about the nature of their investments by failing to tell them that returns were coming from a company owned by Petters and not the big box retailers who were purportedly purchasing the electronic goods.
In reality, money from new investors was used to repay principal and interest to old investors.
In his motions, Vennes says that if his conviction is not dismissed he then wants a new judge to resentence him under the terms of a revised plea agreement that provides for a lesser sentence.
The government contends that Vennes knowingly signed the plea agreement in question and testified under oath that he understood its consequences.
"Vennes' unsupported, 11th-hour fabrications defy common sense and fly in the face of the record in this case," the government said.