ST. PAUL, Minn. – A federal appeals court Friday upheld the 2009 conviction and 50-year prison sentence of Minnesota businessman Tom Petters, who was found guilty of orchestrating a $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Petters got a fair trial.
A three-judge panel rejected defense claims that the U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle prevented his attorneys from presenting a complete defense by restricting their ability to question a key prosecution witness, Larry Reynolds, a convicted felon and disbarred lawyer who was in the witness protection program, about his links to organized crime.
The panel also said the judge acted properly when he rejected proposed jury instructions that would have highlighted Petters' claims that he was an unwitting participant in a fraud conceived by others, and that he acted in good faith on advice from his attorney.
It ruled that the judge did not err by denying a change in venue due to the extensive media coverage the case generated. The panel also rejected defense claims of procedural errors in Petters' sentencing.
A jury found Petters guilty of 20 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.
According to testimony and documents presented at trial, Petters Co. Inc. used fake purchase orders and phony bank records to dupe investors into financing what they were told would be purchases of electronics such as big-screen televisions that PCI would resell to discount retailers such as Sam's Club and Costco. In reality, the prosecution contended, the merchandise never existed and the sales never took place.
Petters testified that he thought PCI, an arm of his now defunct Petters Group Worldwide, was conducting real deals involving real merchandise.
Now 54, Petters is serving his sentence in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.