Judge to decide whether to release Petters until trialby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A federal judge is expected to rule this morning if businessman Tom Petters should be released from jail until he stands trail for his alleged role in a huge fraud scheme.
Federal prosecutors now say Petters led a fraud that took in over $3 billion from investors and lasted more than a decade.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes heard nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday afternoon, as he weighed if Petters should be let out of jail.
Federal prosecutors want him to stay there. They introduced tapes and transcripts of secretly recorded conversions involving Petters, arguing they showed he was contemplating fleeing the country.
The tapes and transcripts were frequently hard to follow, though. People in the courtroom often couldn't make out anything said on the tapes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti denounced Petters as a "$3 billion con man."
He said Petters led what is perhaps the largest fraud scheme ever seen in Minnesota. Marti said Petters has acknowledged his guilt on tape and in a conversation with an FBI agent.
Marti admitted Petters has surrendered his passport and consented to a freezing of assets. But Marti contended that Petters, with a net worth of over $1 billion, could easily have lots of money stashed away to finance an escape overseas.
Petters attorney, Jon Hopeman, said Petters could have fled the country before he was arrested but didn't. And Hopeman had explanations for Petters' taped ruminations about leaving the country.
Hopeman said the idea of fleeing the country was raised by a Petter's associate who is cooperating with the FBI.
And Hopeman said Petters thoughts about leaving the county were like pipedreams and had a crazy quality to them.
Hopeman suggested that's because Petters has been abusing prescription medications and alcohol.
Hopeman contended Petters has no cash, passport or other tools to get out of the country. He argued Petters should be confined to his home until trial.
Hopeman said Petters knows he would be caught if he flees.
- Morning Edition, 10/08/2008, 6:55 a.m.