Three men were sentenced Thursday for their roles in a $194 million Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Trevor Cook, according to Minnesota’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Among them is Jason “Bo” Beckman of Plymouth, who received 30 years in federal prison. Co-defendants Gerald Durand and Christopher Pettengill, meanwhile, were sentenced to 20 years and 7.5 years, respectively, for their roles in the scheme.
The three men were also “solely and jointly” ordered to pay $155.4 million in restitution to victims of the Ponzi scheme. (A total of $155.4 million must be collectively paid; until the sum is paid, however, each defendant is in effect responsible for the full amount, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman.)
Cook was sentenced in 2010 to 25 years in prison for orchestrating the scheme, which is said to have defrauded more than 725 people.
Between 2005 and November 2009, Cook and his co-conspirators solicited investors to put money in a foreign currency trading program that they alleged would earn a double-digit rate of return, typically between 10.5 and 12 percent annually, with little or no risk, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The men also claimed investor assets would be held in a separate account and could be withdrawn at any time, although that was not the case.
Some funds were invested in foreign currency trading, but most of the trading was high risk and it often resulted in major losses—and this information was concealed from investors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The co-conspirators received about $194 million in investments, of which only about $109 million was sent to currency trading firms. About $52 million was paid out to investors under the guise of being returns, when in fact the money constituted withdrawals of other investments, and about $30 million was diverted to fund the business and personal expenses of the conspirators and others, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis reportedly called Beckman a central figure in the fraud scheme.
Conservative radio show host Patrick Kiley, another defendant in the case, allegedly solicited investors for the scam through his radio talk show, which was carried on more than 200 stations across the country. He “regularly warned listeners to avoid financial ruin by giving their life savings to his company for investment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Kiley’s sentencing was rescheduled and will take place January 18, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He will be sentenced on 12 counts of wire and mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and two counts of money laundering.
While soliciting investors for the fraudulent currency program, Beckman was looking to buy a stake in the Minnesota Wild—and he made false claims to the National Hockey League regarding which assets in trading accounts were his own, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Too, he failed to file or filed false income tax returns in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and he initiated the sale of two life insurance policies belonging to an investor and took the money to prop up currency trading accounts held in his name, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Durand, meanwhile, concealed more than $20,000 from the court-appointed receiver, who was searching for assets of the currency program fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. And he filed false individual income tax returns for tax years 2006 through 2008.
Pettengill was charged in June 2011 and pleaded guilty that same month to three charges related to the scheme. He was sentenced Thursday on one count of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and one count of money laundering.
Beckman, Durand, and Kiley were convicted for their crimes in June 2012 after a nearly two-month trial.
Before he was sentenced Thursday, Beckman spoke for about 40 minutes and claimed innocence in all aspects of the fraud, according to a report by the Pioneer Press. “I cannot admit to something I did not do,” he reportedly told Judge Davis.
Beckman was sentenced on 17 counts of wire and mail fraud, two counts of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, four counts of money laundering, two counts of filing a false tax return, and one count of tax evasion.
Durand, meanwhile, was sentenced on 12 counts of wire and mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, two counts of money laundering, two counts of concealing a material fact from the United States, and three counts of filing a false tax return.
In addition to Beckman, Durand, Kiley, Cook, and Pettengill, Jon Jason Greco pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about concealing assets related to the fraud, and he subsequently received a 10-month sentence.
According to a Star Tribune report, prosecutors called the Ponzi scheme the worst scam in state history—worse even than Tom Petters’ massive $3.65 billion scheme—because the conspirators primarily targeted the elderly.
“We are very pleased with today’s sentences,” U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said in a statement. “These are the types of cases this office will vigorously pursue—cases where defendants prey on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, or use special relationships, like those established through faith communities, to commit financial fraud that devastates thousands of people, crushing their dreams of retirement or college for their children.”