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Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal staff writers
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal | Thursday, December 3, 2009, 11:57am CST
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Tom Petters plans to appeal the verdict that found him guilty on all 20 counts for his role in orchestrating a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Petters’ defense attorney, Jon Hopeman, told the AP his client’s push to win the case “is far from over.” Petters can’t officially appeal the decision until his sentencing, which is expected to occur in the next two months.

Throughout his trial, Petters maintained his innocence, saying it was his former employees and associates who committed the fraud without his knowledge.

A federal jury found him guilty Wednesday afternoon. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The inve

Rather, government evidence showed, investor funds went to support the money-losing businesses that operated under the Petters Group umbrella, as well as to fund the extravagant lifestyles of Petters and his cronies.

“The conspirators became wealthy off the conspiracy,” said Marti, one of three federal prosecutors on the case.

Petters, the government said, siphoned off $82 million between 2003 and 2008 for his personal bank accounts and $315 million for his companies. White, the government said, personally received $14.5 million in the same period and Coleman took home $14.4 million.

stigation came together in a frenzy, leaving Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti bleary-eyed as the first coconspirators began making appearances to enter guilty pleas in St. Paul last fall. “Like the song says, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead,’” Marti said at the time, quoting the lyrics of rocker Warren Zevon.

Petters’ co-conspirators pleaded guilty one after another. They include former executives with Petters Co. Inc., Deanna Coleman and Robert White; business associates Michael Catain of Shorewood and Larry Reynolds of Los Angeles; hedge fund manager Gregory Bell of suburban Chicago, and one of his accounting executives, Harold Alan Katz.

But Petters held fast to his claim of innocence, testifying in the 18-day trial that he had trusted some people too much to run the company after his son John was fatally stabbed in Italy during a college study trip in 2004.

Most of the Petters business enterprise has been dismantled. Polaroid Corp. was auctioned off for $85.9 million in a bankruptcy proceeding this year and the remainder of Petters’ business and personal property is being liquidated for disbursement to his many creditors, who likely will get pennies on the dollar.

The case against Peters began on Sept. 8, 2008, when Coleman — a longtime employee, confidante and onetime lover — went to federal authorities and gave them their first look at a massive investor fraud scheme.

The government wasted no time to get to the bottom of the operation and immediately fitted Coleman with an undercover recording devices. The government had her race back to corporate headquarters to begin recording hours and hours of discussions between herself, Petters and other intimates within the Petters scheme.

The government played 70 excerpts of those tapes for a total of 17 hours and 37 minutes. They presented the core of the government’s case with Petters, who at one point is caught declaring, “This is one big (expletive) fraud. That’s what it is.”

The fraud collapsed on Sept. 24, 2008, when scores of federal agents raided the corporate headquarters of Petters Group Worldwide in Minnetonka and the personal residences of Petters and his accomplices.

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