Nearly three years after the collapse of the second-largest Ponzi scheme in Minnesota history, jurors in a Minneapolis federal court will begin deliberations Friday on whether three key figures were duped by convicted fraudster Trevor Cook as they claim, or whether they helped him to bilk $194 million from more than 700 investors.
The three defendants in the case left no doubt that can barely stand one another. But federal prosecutors say they worked hand-in-glove, each for their own reasons, to gain the trust of mostly elderly investors around the country. That trust was gained through blatant misrepresentations, exaggerations and outright lies, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Perzel said Thursday in her closing arguments.
Although it's a complicated case that involved 90 witnesses and more than 800 exhibits, Perzel said, "at it's most basic level, this is a case about lying to people to get their money."
The victims included men, women, young and old, she said. They ranged from white collar workers to corporate executives. But they all had one thing in common, Perzel said. They trusted the defendants "because of the lies that they were told."
Defense attorneys argued that their clients, like the victim-investors, were true believers in the foreign currency investment program that Cook used as his principal vehicle for the scheme. They said it started out in 2005 as a legitimate investment strategy, then morphed into a scam that collapsed in July 2009 when some Ohioans filed suit in Minneapolis seeking to recover their $10 million investment.
The lawsuit shocked investors, who'd been sold the investment with promises of full liquidity, no risk to principal and steady, double-digit returns.
Cook pleaded guilty in 2010 and is serving a 25-year term in federal prison. The defendants on trial are Jason "Bo" Beckman, 42, of Plymouth; Gerald Durand, 61, of Faribault; and Patrick Kiley, 73, of Minneapolis. Each defendant faces various counts of wire and mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Beckman and Durand also face several tax charges. Durand faces an additional count of concealing cash transactions.
Beckman is a former Anoka High School hockey standout who claimed to be one of the top money managers in the United States. Beckman stuck by Cook long after he learned of problems with the currency program, Perzel argued, because Beckman was trying to buy a $5 million stake in the Minnesota Wild hockey team and he didn't want anything to spoil his application.
She recalled that when Beckman testified, he claimed to have "pulled back the curtain" on the Ponzi scheme when he hired lawyers and accountants in 2008 to evaluate the currency program in relation to his Wild bid.
"The problem is, Mr. Beckman was behind the curtain with Trevor Cook," Perzel said.
She noted that three different lawyers advised Beckman to return the investors' money immediately and to cut all ties with Cook. One testified that he had told Beckman that Cook was running a Ponzi scheme.
"Why does Beckman stay?" Perzel asked rhetorically. "It's the NHL. Mr. Beckman does not have the assets of the type that he can present to the NHL without staying with Mr. Cook."
Now, it's up to the jury to decided whom to believe.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493