In a bizarre turn, testimony in the trial of accused Ponzi scheme mastermind Tom Petters focused on the businessman’s fears that he might be whacked by members of a prominent Jewish family in the Twin Cities.
Prosecutors played a 30-minute tape during testimony by Petters executive Deanna Coleman in St. Paul federal court today, the Star Tribune reports on its Web site. Coleman, who revealed details of the alleged scam to federal authorities last year, is a key prosecution witness in the trial. She wore a wire and made the recording of Petters on Sept. 22, 2008.
Star Tribune reporter Dave Phelps writes that on tape “Petters expressed remorse. ‘Nobody’s paying us,’ he said. ‘I can’t stand lying to people every day.'” Petters is charged with engineering a fraudulent scheme that bilked investors of $3.5 billion.
Then, after remarking that he is “trying as hard as I can to find a way out” of his mounting financial difficulties, Petters voices fearsÂ that “Robert W. Sabes, 69, formerly of Wayzata, and his son Jon R. Sabes, 43, of Wayzata, who authorities say had invested $17 million to $19 million with Petters at the time of Petters’ collapse, might kill him,” according to the Star Tribune.
Petters said that he believed that the Sabeses were connected to the mob:Â “”Jon Sabes needs to calm down a bit,” Petters reportedly says on tape. “They are bad, bad people. I think he’d kill me.”
In response to a question fromÂ Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Dixon,Â Coleman allowed that she was not aware of any evidence that someone wanted to kill Petters.
The Star Tribune contacted Robert Sabes, who lives in Las Vegas, and he declined to comment on Petters’ accusations. “I think he’s been watching The Sopranos too much. I’m not going to say any more,” Sabes told the newspaper.
The Sabeses are among the most philanthropic Jewish families in the Twin Cities. A substantial donation some years ago led to the Minneapolis JCC being renamed the Sabes JCC. The JCC’s annual film festival also is known now as the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival. According to its tax filing, the Sabes Family Foundation distributed more than $2.2 million in charitable contributions in 2007.
The Star Tribune reports that the Sabeses “run a commercial finance company in Minneapolis called Opportunity Finance LLC, a creditor in the Petters bankruptcy. Petters owes the company nearly $19 million, court documents show. Robert Sabes’ many businesses included the Minneapolis strip club Schieks Palace Royale, which he sold in 2007.”