"Your honor, I was scared, scared to death. It's not a great excuse. But I kept thinking about my kids and being gone from them for life. I'm sorry I lied in the courtroom, on the stand. I didn't want to go to trial. It's a horrible excuse. But I lied. I'm begging for your forgiveness."
Admitting his guilt for the first time, a Minnesota businessman convicted and sentenced for the third-largest Ponzi scheme in history begged for leniency from a federal judge today, claiming that his 50-year sentence should be reduced to a 30-year sentence. Tom Petters, currently serving time for masterminding a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme, took the stand today in his quest to show that his former attorneys provided "ineffective assistance of counsel" by failing to allegedly communicate a lesser 30-year plea bargain offer. Petters was ultimately convicted of twenty fraud counts and sentenced to a 50-year prison term.
After his arrest in October 2008, Petters' former attorney, Jon Hopeman, met with an assistant U.S. attorney who purportedly indicated that the government would agree not to seek more than a 30-year sentence if Petters would plead guilty. After an indictment was issued shortly thereafter charging Petters with twenty fraud counts, Petters alleges that he met with Hopeman and was told that no plea offer had been made. Following this, Petters also alleged that Hopeman had a subsequent meeting with the prosecuting attorney and indicated that "as a matter of personal pride," his "professional integrity would not allow" him to advise Petters to accept the offer. Petters has offered his sworn testimony in favor of these claims. After proceeding to trial, Petters was convicted of all counts on December 2, 2009, and later sentenced to serve 50 years in prison.
At the evidentiary hearing today, Petters took the stand to face intense questioning from prosecutors, who insinuated that Petters would "say anything" in order to win a sentence reduction. For the first time, Petters admitted his role in the massive scheme, explaining that "we were robbing Peter to pay Paul." However, Petters maintained that he was not the mastermind, and that the scheme was simply "a culmination of ideas that got messed up."
Petters' former attorney, Hopeman, also took the stand to address claims that he had not communicated the 30-year plea bargain offer to Petters. Hopeman adamantly denied the allegations, contending that he had informed Petters of the offer, and that Petters thought the offer was "ridiculous" at the time. Additionally, Hopeman indicated that Petters had instructed him not to settle for less than 15 years, and was trying to "piss off" the prosecutors. In a slight reversal of the position taken in Petters' filing, Petters' attorney sought to paint the picture that, instead of never presenting the offer to Petters, Hopeman told Petters he "couldn't recommend" the sentence.
Motions are now due November 5th from each side, and a ruling will likely follow shortly thereafter.