Some Victims of Petters Fraud to Get Cash Back

Investors who lost money by investing with Frank Vennes-a businessman whose companies put funds into Tom Petters' entities-will recoup some of their money.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery signed an order on Tuesday that will allow some victims of Tom Petters' Ponzi scheme to get back a portion of the money they lost.

People who invested with Frank Vennes will receive funds distributed from the Vennes receivership. Vennes was the sole member of a limited liability company called Metro Gem, a vehicle for people to invest in that in turn invested in Petters' companies.

In October 2008, shortly after the Petters scheme was uncovered, the government froze the assets of several defendants, and two separate receiverships were established-one including the assets of Vennes and the entities under his control, and one containing the assets of all other defendants.

The government's lawsuit accused all of the defendants of “soliciting investors to invest substantial sums of money” into Petters Company, Inc. (PCI), the venture capital arm of Petters' companies. In an affidavit filed by Eileen Rice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government alleges that Petters stated that Vennes and other co-conspirators had knowledge of his fraud scheme. It also indicates that Vennes previously pleaded guilty to an unrelated money laundering charge in 1987.

Unlike many of the defendants named in the suit who have been sentenced for criminal charges related to Petters' scheme, Vennes was not indicted.

Doug Kelley was appointed receiver for the Petters receivership, and the Vennes receivership is overseen by receiver Gary Hansen. In a Wednesday phone interview, Hansen said that Tuesday's order was the result of an agreement between Vennes, the government, and himself.

Under the order, three banks and one individual creditor will receive about $11.5 million, which amounts to 65 percent to 74 percent of their losses. According to Hansen, the creditors in this group are each assigned specific assets, so the transfer of those assets will likely be an efficient process. Court documents filed last month indicate that the banks owed money are Crown Bank, Private Bank, and Home Federal Savings Bank.

A total of 31 other investors or entities that lost money by investing with Vennes will also receive funds. Those holding personal guarantees from Vennes are expected to get back about half of what they lost, while those without a personal guarantee will recover about 35 percent. Those investors together will receive roughly $16.4 million. Hansen said that many assets of the receivership-which include art, gold coins, real estate, and more-will be sold, and the funds will be pooled together and distributed to investors, likely through multiple payments.

Court documents filed last month indicate that, of those 31 investors, the creditors owed the most money include Petra Financial and AI Plus, Inc.

Investors who received more in payments than the amount they invested with Vennes won't receive distributed funds.

All of Petters' co-defendants were charged for crimes arising from the Ponzi scheme except for Vennes. In the Petters criminal proceedings, restitution was not ordered because the court determined that the resulting burden would have outweighed the benefits experienced by victims of the fraud. Kelley has filed more than 200 “clawback” lawsuits to recoup assets from investors who profited from the Ponzi scheme to be distributed to investors who lost money from the fraud.

Kelley objected to a proposal to liquidate the Vennes receivership, as he sought to have the receiverships combined.

For the most part, Montgomery's order to distribute the assets of the Vennes receivership mirrored the proposal agreed upon by Hansen, Vennes, and the government. The judge's order, however, states that 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of assets from the Vennes receivership will be held pending the conclusion of clawback suits filed by Kelley against Vennes and his companies.