Three Florida men indicted for lying to investors about hedge fund’s investment with Petters
MINNEAPOLIS – Three Florida men, a business associate of Thomas J. Petters and two hedge fund managers, were indicted today in federal court in Minneapolis for fraudulently marketing a hedge fund’s investments in Petters Company, Inc. (“PCI”). Frank E. Vennes, age 53, of Stuart, Florida; David W. Harrold, age 51, of Del Ray Beach, Florida; and Bruce F. Prevost, age 51, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, were charged with four counts of securities fraud in relation to this alleged crime. In addition, Vennes was charged with one count of money laundering.
PCI was owned and operated by Petters, who represented that funds invested in PCI promissory notes would be used to finance the purchase of electronics and other consumer merchandise. Purportedly, PCI would then resell that merchandise, for a profit, to certain “big box” retailers, including Sam’s Club and Costco. In truth, however, no merchandise was bought or resold. Instead, Petters diverted for his own personal benefit hundreds of millions of dollars. His $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme unraveled in 2008, when federal agents executed search warrants at his business offices and other locations. He was subsequently prosecuted and, in April of 2010, sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. He is currently serving his sentence in the federal
penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Petters began the PCI Ponzi scheme in or before 1993. Starting in the late 1990s, he raised
most of the proceeds of the fraud by selling PCI notes to large hedge funds, managed and
operated by hedge fund managers. Hedge fund managers had a fiduciary duty to their investors.
They made representations to their investors regarding the investments, the due diligence performed on the investments, and the financial mechanisms put in place to protect the hedge fund’s investments in PCI. In exchange for their efforts, the hedge fund managers obtained management fees from investor funds.
The indictment returned today charges Harrold and Prevost with defrauding hedge fund investors. The men co-founded Palm Beach Capital Management, which served as the investment adviser for the four Palm Beach hedge funds. According to the indictment, Vennes directed Harold and Prevost to communicate with Petters and PCI only through him. In November of 2002, Harrold and Prevost purportedly first invested hedge fund money in PCI, and as of September 24, 2008, the hedge funds reportedly held PCI investments totaling approximately $1 billion. Between 2002 and 2008, Harrold and Prevost’s companies allegedly grossed more than $58 million in management fees. For his part, Vennes received more than $60 million in commissions based on the Palm Beach investments in PCI.
Allegedly, the defendants made material misrepresentations and concealed material information about the PCI investments in order to induce investors to purchase securities. For example, investors were told that when a retailer purchased consumer electronics or other goods from PCI, those products were paid for by the retailer with funds directly deposited into a bank account under the control of Harrold and Prevost’s management companies. As a result, investors were falsely assured that all PCI transactions were, in fact, occurring. However, the defendants knew the hedge funds received payments from PCI alone and never from retailers. Moreover, by February of 2008, millions of dollars of PCI notes were on the verge of default. Between February and September of 2008, the defendants engaged in a scheme to swap more than $1 billion worth of PCI promissory notes to create the appearance that PCI could repay the notes held by the Palm Beach funds. All note swaps allegedly went through Vennes. During that same time period, Harrold and Prevost allegedly continued to report to investors that the hedge funds were generating steady profits and, encouraged and assisted by Vennes, solicited new investors and additional money from existing investors, raising more than $75 million in new money from more than 30 investors.
If convicted, the defendants face a potential maximum penalty of five years on each securities fraud count, while Vennes is subject to as much as ten additional years in federal prison for money laundering. All sentences will be determined by a federal district court judge. This case is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service–Criminal Investigation Division, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, with the assistance and support of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Rank and John Docherty.
This law enforcement action is in part sponsored by the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. It includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch and, with state and local partners, investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes,
ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.
An indictment is a determination by a grand jury that there is probable cause to believe that offenses have been committed by a defendant. A defendant, of course, is presumed innocent until he or she pleads guilty or is proven guilty at trial.
Here's a good summary of Bachmann's connection to convicted felon Frank Vennes Jr. by Karl Bremer:
In 2008, it was revealed that Bachmann had received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Frank Vennes Jr. and his family. Vennes is a convicted money-launderer/cocaine runner/gun runner for whom Bachmann had requested a presidential pardon in 2007.
When Vennes became implicated—but never charged—in the Tom Petters multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme in 2008, it didn’t take long for Bachmann to abandon her principled “innocent until proven guilty” stance. She quickly rescinded her pardon request for her close personal friend, and then tried to further save face by giving away a portion of the money she had taken from Vennes and family—although it was only $9,200 of the $27,400 she had hauled in from the Vennes family from 2005-2008.
Bachmann first tried to give the money to Minnesota Teen Challenge, a favorite evangelical charity of Bachmann’s that once had very close ties to Vennes. He is a former board member of the organization. However, Minnesota Teen Challenge allegedly lost $5.7 million in investments in Petters companies that were made through one of Vennes’ companies.
Rich Scherber, executive director of Minnesota Teen Challenge, said his organization sent Bachmann’s $9,200 check back without even cashing it.
“We didn’t want to be involved if it was dirty money,” Scherber said at the time.
Bachmann eventually found a willing taker for her tainted Vennes money when she donated it to R3, a collaborative of Christian recovery groups that happens to include Minnesota Teen Challenge.
More about Frank Vennes...
Listen to Frank Vennes talk at God & Money Dinner.
Bizarre Audio of Tom Petters, Bruce Prevost and Frank Vennes Jr. Talking Religion (and Money)
Posts about Vennes at Karl Bremer's Ripple in Stillwater blog.