Put fetters on Petters’ associates

Tom Petters’ guilty underlings might accuse their way off the hook.

For 16 jurors in the Tom Petters case, the next six weeks will likely be spent carefully weighing evidence and arguments. Their task is to determine whether Tom Petters, a well-known businessman, is primarily guilty of over $3.5 billion in fraud. Though PettersâÄô company had apparently been experiencing a tough financial situation for a few years, the investigation did not begin until Deanna Coleman, his former vice president of operations, came forward to give information about the fraud she and others helped carry out in PettersâÄô company. After she met with government investigators to confess the fraud, citing fear of being caught and imprisoned, Coleman wore a wire to a meeting with Petters. Several of PettersâÄô former associates plead guilty to fraud charges, but Petters denies knowledge of their activities. Jon Hopeman, PettersâÄô attorney, said the following in his early arguments: âÄúItâÄôs true this is a big fraud, but itâÄôs a fraud committed by the government witnesses [PettersâÄô former associates]. Mr. Petters had nothing to do with it.âÄù While the practice of giving whistleblowers lighter sentences in return for cooperation with prosecution has a long history, this case proves troublesome. If Petters is found guilty, he faces life in prison. His associates, however, will probably do far less time. If PettersâÄô involvement was not what his shifty associates claim, they should not be given near-immunity for pointing fingers. We need to ensure our justice system does not allow those culpable to accuse their guilt away.