* Minnesota businessman claims wasn't told of plea offer
* Judge says Petters "tried to pull off one final con"
* Petters convicted in 2009 over $3.65 billion fraud
By Jonathan Stempel
Dec 6 Minnesota businessman Thomas Petters has
failed to persuade a federal judge to reduce his 50-year prison
term for running a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme.
Petters, 56, claimed his trial lawyers had been ineffective
because they didn't tell him about a plea offer from federal
prosecutors, a year before his December 2009 conviction, that
would have sent him to prison for no more than 30 years.
In a sharply worded decision late Thursday, U.S. District
Judge Richard Kyle said the sentence was appropriate, and that
Petters' lawyers provided capable counsel, including by
notifying their client about the proposed 30-year cap.
"Staring into an abyss of nearly 15,000 days of
incarceration, Petters has tried to pull off one final con," the
St. Paul, Minnesota-based judge wrote. "He is entitled to
neither relief nor sympathy from this court."
The government had charged Petters with using one of his
companies to bilk investors who thought he was using their money
to buy consumer electronics for resale to retailers such as
Costco Wholesale Corp and BJ's Wholesale Club.
Jurors convicted Petters on all 20 criminal counts that he
faced, including wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.
More than a dozen people tied to the scheme went to prison.
"Tom Petters will say and do just about anything if he
perceives he gets an advantage," Acting U.S. Attorney John
Marti, who helped prosecute Petters from the start of the
criminal case, said in a phone interview. "Sadly, we have
individuals like Mr. Petters who through fraud and deceit take
advantage of the good faith of the American public."
At an Oct. 23 hearing, Petters testified that he did not
know before trial about the plea offer, a contention that his
trial lawyers rejected.
Kyle was unmoved by what he called Petters' "deliberate,
measured, and calculated" testimony, including "crocodile tears"
and even an admission of guilt, that reflected a man "willing to
say or do anything" to gain leniency.
Steven Meshbesher, a lawyer who argued Petters' motion for a
lesser sentence, in a phone interview said it is unclear whether
there will be an appeal, and that he had discussed the decision
with Petters' family.
"They are very saddened and upset with the decision,"
Meshbesher said. "They feel that the judge's interpretation of
the testimony was not accurate, and rightfully so."
Meshbesher said he has yet to discuss the decision with
Petters, who is housed in a Leavenworth, Kansas prison.
"When I saw him in October, he was disheveled and overweight
and was wearing hearing aids, which is unusual for someone in
his mid-50s," he said. "He does not look like the Tom Petters of
old. He looked sad, depressed and unhealthy."
A Ponzi scheme occurs when money from new investors is used
to pay earlier investors.
The case is U.S. v. Petters, U.S. District Court, District
of Minnesota, No. 08-00364.