Man convicted of $3.65bn Ponzi fraud

CHICAGO: A federal jury has found a Minnesota man guilty of running a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme that fleeced customers for more than 10 years, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Thomas Petters, 53, was yesterday convicted on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering and faces over 100 years in prison, as well as massive fines.

The Justice Department said Petters “obtained billions of dollars in money and property” by telling investors their funds would be used to purchase merchandise that would be resold for profit. “However, no such purchases were made. Instead, the defendants and co-conspirators diverted the funds provided them for other purposes, such as making lulling payments to investors, paying off those who assisted in their fraud scheme, funding businesses owned or controlled by the defendants, and financing Thomas Petters’s extravagant lifestyle,” the statement said. Petters lured new investors by showing them fake documents showing the purchase of goods and falsified promissory notes indicating that Petters Company Inc, or PCI, was owed billions of dollars from resales.

“Petters’s scam was an ordinary Ponzi scheme,” the department statement said, adding that he “continued to lull investors even after law enforcement executed search warrants on September 24, 2008.” The investigation into Petters began in early September, when PCI employee Deanna Coleman reported the scheme to federal prosecutors.

She recorded conversations with Petters in which he described the “fake” purchase orders and claimed “divine intervention” was the only way the scheme had persisted for so long without being discovered.

“This case shows that the appearance of success can be a mask for a tangled financial web of lies,” said Julio La Rosa, an Internal Revenue Service agent who helped on the case.

Ralph Boelter, the FBI agent in charge of the Minneapolis field office, said he hoped the verdict would provide some consolation to victims of the scheme.