Petters Petitions Supreme Court to Review His Case

After an unsuccessful appeal to a lower court, Tom Petters' attorneys are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit his case, arguing that the defense was barred from questioning a witness about his criminal background and saying Petters' sentence is disproportionate to those received by his co-conspirators.

Convicted businessman Tom Petters is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review his conviction and the 50-year prison sentence he is currently serving.

The Supreme Court petition comes after Petters' appeal was denied by a lower court. In his original appeal, Petters argued that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kyle prevented his attorneys from presenting a complete defense by cutting short the cross-examination of Larry Reynolds-a convicted felon and disbarred lawyer who was in the witness protection program.

A three-judge 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld Petters' conviction and sentence, as did the full 8th Circuit Court. Petters' attorney Jon Hopeman said at the time that he intended to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hopeman on Wednesday filed the Supreme Court petition, which outlines many of the same arguments presented in the original appeal.

It claims that prior to the trial, Petters' defense lawyers discovered that Reynolds had been in the federal witness protection program. They uncovered evidence that Reynolds was an organized crime figure from Massachusetts, who had become a secret informant and testified against organized crime figures in Boston in exchange for a lenient punishment, according to Petters' petition.

Petters' attorneys claim to have obtained a “secret file” detailing Reynolds' history of conducting frauds similar to the one involving Petters' company. But the district court ordered that no part of the file could be used as evidence at trial, and the defense was barred from inquiring about Reynolds' past, despite the fact that he lied about his criminal history during trial, the petition states.

Petters' Supreme Court petition also claims that his sentence is disproportionate to his co-conspirators. For example, Deanna Coleman-the whistleblower in the case, who has already completed her one-year prison sentence-“sought to trade Mr. Petters' freedom in exchange for a lenient sentence” when cooperating with the government, according to the filing.

“She knew that to avoid decades in prison, it was imperative that she build a case against Mr. Petters . . .” the petition states.

During Petters' trial, prosecutors claimed that he spearheaded the Ponzi scheme. Petters has maintained that Reynolds conspired with Coleman to perpetrate the fraud without his knowledge.

Petters claims that he deserved a more lenient sentence due to “a lack of empirical basis for the harsh sentences meted out to 'white collar' offenders based on loss calculations, and sentencing disparities vis-ˆ-vis similarly situated defendants.”

Reynolds received a sentence of 10 years and 10 months in prison.

Despite the defense's arguments, Petters was convicted in 2009 of 20 counts of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering after a month-long trial and five days of jury deliberations. His 50-year sentence, which he is currently serving in Leavenworth, Kansas, was handed down in 2010.

If the Supreme Court denies Petters' petition, the appeals process is over; if the court grants it, there will be briefs and oral arguments presented, according to a report by the Star Tribune.

Ted Sampsell-Jones, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, told the Minneapolis newspaper that it's not impossible, but unlikely, that Petters' petition will be granted, considering the thousands of petitions the court receives each year. “You're literally running a camel through the eye of a needle,” he said.

To learn more about Petters' side of the story, which he shared in an exclusive interview with Twin Cities Business, pick up a copy of the May issue, which will be available at area newsstands April 27. Or, be one of the first to read it online beginning April 23 by signing up here.