Convicted Minn. fraudster Petters offers tearful apology while seeking shorter prison sentence

Convicted Minnesota businessman Tom Petters asked a judge for forgiveness Wednesday, offering a tearful apology as he seeks to have 20 years cut off his 50-year prison sentence.

Petters was convicted in 2009 of running a $3.5 billion fraud scheme. He broke down into tears Wednesday as he told Judge Richard Kyle he "made a horrible mess of things."

"This is my only chance to clear my conscience and soul," said Petters, 56.

He testified that he'd lied on the stand out of fear and that he never wanted to go to trial. He said he would have accepted a 30-year plea deal but he was only told of the possible offer after he was sentenced.

"Your honor, I was scared, scared to death," Petters said. "It's not a great excuse. But I kept thinking about my kids and being gone from them for life. I'm sorry I lied in the courtroom, on the stand. I didn't want to go to trial. It's a horrible excuse. But I lied. I'm begging for your forgiveness."

Acting U.S. Attorney for Minnesota John Marti suggested during his cross-examination that Petters was continuing to lie, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

"You'll say just about anything if you see an advantage to lying," Marti said.

His defense team has said Petters knew of the deal but rejected it.

Petters' former defense attorney Jon Hopeman testified that he had told Petters of a government offer of a 30-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

"What he said was not true," Hopeman said. He added, "I have an obligation to communicate every single plea offer in detail."

Petters was convicted on 20 counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering.