Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Tom Petters Is Not a Bentley Guy

Thumbnail image for petters_plane.jpgSwashbuckling cocker spaniel Tom Petters has managed to keep his focus the last few days, testifying in his trial for his alleged $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme.
His cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon included several interesting exchanges including Petters admitting that he was the ‘heart and soul’ of PCI despite his claim of being duped for fifteen years by his office manager/confidante/lover, Deanna Coleman and Robert White, his former CFO. Dixon also accused of Petters of getting drunk on the super-happy-fun times he was having as a captain of industry:

Dixon moved to a line of questioning meant to show Petters used investors’ money to support his other businesses and lifestyle.
Dixon asked about Petters’ ownership of a Bentley, his use of corporate aircraft and homes on Lake Minnetonka and in Florida.
“You wanted the life of a corporate tycoon,” Dixon said.
“No, others wanted me to have that life,” Petters said, his voice rising. “I did not want the life of a corporate tycoon. Absolutely, I didn’t want that.”
Petters said his friend Dean Vlahos, a founder of the Champps and Redstone American Grill restaurant chains, bought him a Bentley as a gift.
“I didn’t want a Bentley,” he said. “I’m not a Bentley guy.”

See? Tom Petters was thrust into this swashbuckling lifestyle by others. The man can’t finish a book if his life depended on it, he can’t possibly be this titan of capitalism. He would’ve been perfectly happy driving a late 70s Oldsmobile Cutlass around on fumes with the headliner completely torn out. In fact, he would’ve preferred that.
Prosecutor jabs, Petters takes to ropes [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
More GC Coverage of Tom Petters:
Even as the Doors Were Being Busted Down, Tom Petters Was Sure Everything Would Be Fine
Tom Petters Was Pretty Sure He Was Going to End Up in a Dumpster Somewhere
Ernst & Young and McGladrey & Pullen Both Have a Petters Problem

‘Swashbuckling Industrialist’ Tom Petters Is Going to be Responsible for Putting Senior Citizens on the Street

petters_plane.jpgFor those of you that were maybe developing a soft spot for Tom Petters because, among other things, his own lawyer doesn’t think too much of him, the latest testimony in TP’s trial should help squash your sympathy.
Janet Leck, a 79 year old widow, was convinced by Frank Vennes, Jr. — an evangelist who “steered unwitting investors to [Petters]” — to invest her money with Tom Petters. At one point Vennes, apparently having reconnected with the Almighty, told Leck that he was ending his business relationship with TP because of ‘things he was seeing in Mr. Petters’ personal life’ and was returning her money.
Now, one could assume that Vennes was getting the creeps from Petters because either: 1) he realized that Petters was a complete man-child that couldn’t finish a copy of Go Dog Go! or 2) typical hooker/llelo chicanery.

Two years after dumping Petters for his sinful ways, Vennes decided redemption was in order (or, most likely, he just missed the hookers) because he went back to TP and got the Lecks to invest with him again:

She re-mortgaged her home and drew out $190,000 in equity to invest with Petters, she said. Leck said she relied on the $3,400 monthly payments from that loan for living expenses until September 2008, when authorities raided Petters’ home and business looking for evidence that he was running an alleged $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme.
Now, unless she can restructure her mortgage, Leck said, “I’m looking at foreclosure. …I will move from my home of 30 years.”

In other overwhelmingly convincing testimony, investment banker Michael Liss described Petters, “as a ‘swashbuckling industrialist’ who had an arsenal of ‘ridiculous’ excuses for not paying his debts on time.”
Ridiculous excuses like, “Do you treat your other swashbuckling industrialist clients this way?” or “I’m busy ripping off senior citizens. Do you mind?” OR “My ass is going to end up in dumpster any second, sorta busy.”
Petters trial: Retired widow fears losing her home [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

Even as the Doors Were Being Busted Down, Tom Petters Was Sure Everything Would Be Fine

PettersSmile.jpgThe trial of Cocker Spaniel/Ponzi boy Tom Petters is moving along as more and more witnesses are giving testimony that pretty much solidifies Petters’ statement that his business was “one big fucking fraud”.
Testimony on Tuesday (there were no proceedings yesterday due to the holiday) included that of James Wehmhoff, an accountant for Petters Company Inc. (“PCI”).
Wehmhoff said that Petters and Robert White — Petters’ CFO — were taking money out of a subsidiary for personal use. In addition, he also testified that Petters was panicking about an audit and was desperate to stonewall them:

In an email Petters sent to Wehmhoff and other insiders, Petters allegedly wrote, “We need to send the auditors something every day no matter what and keep them from coming to Minnesota. We must pacify them.”

Yet when the Feds were raiding his businesses last September Petters thought everything was hunky-dory, allegedly telling one investor, ‘everything would be fine’. This despite Petters’ fear of getting clipped and, you know, having to explain just where the hell $3.5 billion went.
We’ll keep you updated until they find this guy guilty.
Accountant Testifies Petters Panicked Over Audit [KSTP]
Accountant: Petters execs misused investor cash [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
Earlier: Ernst & Young and McGladrey & Pullen Both Have a Petters Problem

Tom Petters Was Pretty Sure He Was Going to End Up in a Dumpster Somewhere

Thumbnail image for PettersSmile.jpgTom Petters doesn’t buy the whole Minnesota nice routine. Can’t say we blame the guy. If we were robbing people blind we’d be suspicious of every Marge Gunderson in the Twin Cities too.
According to a tape recording from yesterday’s proceedings, the stress of ripping people off for so long was causing him to freak out a little.

“Nobody’s paying us,” Petters said on the 30-minute recording made Sept. 22, 2008, by federal authorities with the help of Coleman. “I can’t stand lying to people every day.”
“We’re at a breaking point,” Petters said on the tape. “I can’t stand where we are. … None of us are OK. … We’ve got problems. I’m trying as hard as I can to find a way out of this. I don’t think we can all think clearly anymore.”
He said he was afraid that Robert W. Sabes, 69, formerly of Wayzata, and his son Jon R. Sabes, 43, of Wayzata, who authorities say had invested $17 million to $19 million, might kill him.
“Jon Sabes needs to calm down a bit,” Petters said, adding that he believed Sabes was connected to organized crime. “They are bad, bad people. I think he’d kill me.”

Now maybe this goes back to whole notion that TP had the attention span of a dog with above average intelligence (still a disservice to the breed in our book) but if you steal $19 mil from anyone, they’re going to want to kill you. Call it a hunch.
For the Sabes’ part, they may have had some shady connections but Tom Petters doesn’t strike us as the type of guy that attracted devout religious types. When reached for comment, Robert Sabes was quoted as saying, ‘I think he’s been watching “The Sopranos” too much.’
Yep. Pretty sure he was going to kill that guy.
Petters feared mob hit [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

Ernst & Young and McGladrey & Pullen Both Have a Petters Problem

In last Tuesday’s Preliminary Analytics we mentioned the case of Tom Petters, the Minnesota businessman accused of running a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme.

The trial is in its first week and already there has been testimony from the star witness — Petters’ former office manager — that included a recording of Petters saying ‘This is one bi his own defense counsel comparing him to a cocker spaniel:

[Defense counsel, John] Hopeman countered that while Petters was an accomplished salesman, he didn’t have the corporate skills necessary to run companies.
“He has the attention span of a cocker spaniel — about 15 seconds,” the defense lawyer told the 10-woman, six-man jury. “He couldn’t read a whole book if his life depended on it.”

Okay, a couple things before we get to the crux.

• Most cocker spaniels we know have attention spans exponentially longer than fifteen seconds. It would be much more believable if defense counsel had said, “He has the attention span of a pomeranian and you can’t leave him home alone or he’s eats the furniture.”

• Petters couldn’t read a whole book if his life depended on it? Are we talking classic literature? Because if we are, then he’s got company. What about children’s books? Do magazines count? He strikes as a guy that could at least make it through the pro football season preview.

Moving on…

Now that the trial is underway we’ll be following the more interesting developments in the case but we’ll be especially interested in the litigation involving the auditors of the hedge funds that cycled funds to Petters’ businesses.
There is pending litigation in Texas that involves both Ernst & Young and McGladrey & Pullen related to the audits the two firms performed for feeder funds for Petters’ businesses.

These feeder funds received purchase orders for high-end electronics from Petters’ businesses that were seemingly made by big-box retailers such as CostCo. The feeder funds then solicited money from investors, including the plaintiffs in the case, in return for promissory notes for Petters’ businesses. The merchandise on the purchase orders secured the notes. Allegedly, there was no merchandise and Petters used the money received to pay off other investors who were looking to get out and so on and so forth.

The feeder funds that are the defendants in this case are Arrowhead Capital Partners II, L.P. of Minnetonka, Minnesota, Palm Beach Finance Partners, L.P. and Palm Beach Finance Partners II, L.P. of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and Stewardship Credit Arbitrage Fund, LLC of Greenwich, Connecticut. The general partners and investment managers of these funds are also listed as defendants.

E&Y served as auditors for Stewardship while M&P served as the auditors of Arrowhead. A small Florida firm, Kaufman, Rossin, & Co., P.A. served as the auditors for the two Palm Beach funds. The firms are being sued, naturally, for not detecting the alleged fraud. In this case, however, the firms may have it coming since the fraud was run by someone with the alleged attention span of a canine.

We spoke with Guy Hohmann, who is representing the plaintiffs in this case, and according to Mr. Hohmann, M&P has the most significant exposure in the Petters case as they also served as the auditor for Lancelot Investors Fund and Colossus Capital Fund, L.P. both Oak Brook, Illinois based hedge funds. M&P also faces litigation from the investors of those funds in Illinois.

Lancelot’s Vice President of Finance was Harold Katz, who just pleaded guilty last month to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Mr. Hohmann was recently informed that before taking the job at Lancelot, Katz was a senior manager at M&P that worked on the Lancelot audit. M&P would not comment. It has been speculated now that Katz — who pleaded guilty September 2nd — is cooperating with authorities in the cases against Petters and Lancelot founder, Gregory Bell.

In another strange twist, Mr. Hohmann told GC that Lewis Freeman — the forensic accountant that is under federal investigation that we told you about last week — was appointed as the Chief Restructuring Officer of the Palm Beach funds. The Palm Beach funds are not currently listed as an active case on the forensic firm’s website.

We reached out to all the firms named in the lawsuit, McGladrey & Pullen declined to comment while calls to E&Y, Kaufman Rossin & Co., and Kenneth A. Welt, the current receiver listed on the Lewis Freeman website, were not returned.

According to the complaint, the amount lost by the plaintiffs was $24 million dollars, however, according to a October 6, 2008 Bloomberg article, the two Palm Beach Funds were responsible for approximately $1.1 billion of the alleged $3 billion the scheme while the Lancelot funds held approximately $1.0 billion with Petters. Mr. Hohmann’s understanding was that the Palm Beach funds had provided approximately $1.0 and that Lancelot held approximately $1.6 billion. Because of the complex web of companies in this case, the final dollar amounts may not ever be known.

So regardless of the fact that the case in Texas is in its early stages, future lawsuits from other investors could arise, and all three firms could continue to face significant litigation.

We’ll continue to keep you updated on any developments in the cases involving these accounting firms and will be following any noteworthy developments involving the Petters trial.

The case is SSR v. Arrowhead et al., District Court of Dallas County.