Every choice has a consequence. That is my opening sentence as I address groups all around the country on choices and consequences or business ethics. As a speaker and fraud prevention consultant I seem to get the question asked often, “Are there more bad guys doing this type of thing these days?”
No…believe it or not there aren’t. Rather, the access to money has dried up and the “bad guys” are starting to surface.
Take the example of Tom Petters of Wayzata, Minnesota, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison for running a $3.65 billion Ponzi-type investment fraud scheme, one of the largest ever. Convicted last December on all 20 criminal counts that he faced, including wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, Petters now faces a long time in prison for his choices.
Petters and his co-conspirators bilked investors who thought their investment money was being using to buy consumer electronics for resale to retailers such as BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco. Several other executives of the company, including Deanna Coleman, Robert White, Michael Catain and Larry Reynolds, who have all previously pleaded guilty in the case.
Petters solicited billions of dollars in financing for PCI, telling investors he’d use their funds to buy and re-sell consumer electronics and other goods for a profit. Those transactions never occurred, and Petters used investor money to prop up his other, often legitimate, businesses and for his own personal use.
Now…for those who follow my blog this sounds painfully like, what I am referring to as the BizRadio scam. Put in perspective, didn’t BizRadio investors put money into various investments thinking that they were either high yield bonds or real estate investments, when in fact, the money was diverted into BizRadio which had no practical purpose other than to grow Dan Frishberg’s investment portfolio. And, now – stopped by the filing of an involuntary bankruptcy – BizRadio would have been sold back to Salem Communications and Dan Frishberg gained personally in that he got airtime out of the deal. Let me repeat he got air time. Not, the investors got the benefit of airtime which is an asset that could be sold, but Dan Frishberg got the airtime.
Something smells Frishy!
But back to Tom Petters…
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said the sentence – the longest ever in Minnesota for financial fraud – demonstrated that authorities would not shirk from vigorously investigating and prosecuting financial crime.
The Business Journal gave a great account of the Birth and Death of a fraud…
Petters’ crimes first came to light last year, but prosecutors presented evidence that he was bilking investors as early as the mid-1990s. He defrauded a Twin Cities investment firm in 1996, lying to Data Sales Co. Inc. officials about his plans to use their funds to buy electronics from 3M Co. and re-sell the goods to retailers.
In 2000, he attempted to defraud GE Capital, which had extended him a line of credit. Petters submitted false purchase orders, fraudulent checks and other documents in an effort to convince the company he was using its capital to buy and sell goods.
To lure investors, Petters often talked of his “special” relationships with Costco and other discount retailers, witnesses testified in the case. When investors asked to talk to the retailers he did business with, or inspect the goods he claimed to be selling, Petters deflected them, saying prying would scare off buyers.
As investor money flowed into PCI’s accounts throughout the early- to mid-2000s, Petters funneled it elsewhere. He used hundreds of millions of dollars to support his other business ventures, such as Polaroid and Sun Country, which operated under the umbrella of his Petters Group Worldwide entity. He used millions more for personal gain.
Early investors in PCI reeled in significant profits, and PCI was at one time receiving more offers from investors than it needed to accept. But the scheme began to unravel amid the credit crisis of late 2007 and early 2008. At that time, it became increasingly difficult for PCI to lure new investors to cover high-interest payments owed to earlier investors, many of which were hedge funds.
Petters, his employees and associates grew increasingly desperate in early fall of 2008. It was then that PCI executive Deanna Coleman went to federal law enforcement officials, presenting them with evidence of the fraud. She agreed to secretly record conversations with Petters, gathering further evidence that was later presented at trial. Petters was arrested in fall of last year and jailed until his trial.
According to the Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota said Mr. Petters continued “to lull investors” even after agents executed search warrants on Sept. 24, 2008, for his home and office, also in suburban Minneapolis. On Oct. 3 of that year, he was arrested. The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.”
Apply this to the BizRadio – Dan Frishberg case and see the similarities. The only dramatic difference is that Petters crimes have come to trial and sentencing and the other is still under investigation. But…EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE.
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