Petters Asks Court to Vacate 50-Year Prison Term for Fraud

Thomas Petters, the Minnesota businessman sentenced to 50 years in prison after being found guilty of running a $3.5 billion fraud scheme, asked a U.S. judge to set aside his punishment.

In papers filed with U.S. District Judge Richard H. Kyle in St. Paul, Minnesota, today, Petters said his prior attorney, Jon Hopeman, never told him about a pretrial offer from prosecutors to cap his punishment at 30 years’ incarceration in exchange for a guilty plea.

“But for Mr. Hopeman’s ineffective assistance, defendant Petters would have received a far shorter sentence than currently imposed,” according to the filing by new counsel Steven J. Meshbesher.

Petters was found guilty of 20 criminal counts, including fraud, conspiracy and money laundering, in a trial in December 2009.

In what prosecutors called the biggest fraud in state history, he was accused of using his Minnetonka-based Petters Co. to lure investor funds for fake deals to buy shipments of consumer goods, then used the money to support his lavish lifestyle. He was sentenced in April 2010.

Petters asked for a new sentencing hearing to be convened at which he would be allowed to plead guilty to prosecutors’ pretrial offer and receive a reduced sentence.

Lawyer Memos

Submitted with his request were four memorandums allegedly written by Hopeman. In two of them, the attorney logged the overtures from prosecutor John Marti, and in a third he purportedly said he’d told Petters no such offer had been made.

“I told Mr. Marti that as a matter of personal pride, I did not believe that I could advise Mr. Petters to plead guilty to a 30-year cap,” according to the fourth memo, dated Jan. 30, 2009. “I stated that this suggested that 30 years was an appropriate sentence. I told him that my professional integrity would not allow me to do this.”

Hopeman is an attorney in the Minneapolis law firm of Felhaber Larson Fenlon & Vogt and a former assistant U.S. attorney, according to his firm biography.

“No comment except I wish Mr. Petters the best,” Hopeman said by e-mail.

“We’re not going to comment on his motion,” Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the office of Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, said in a phone interview. “Our response will come via our reply in court filings.”

The case is U.S. v. Petters, 08-cr-00364, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at aharris16@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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