Reporting Bill Hudson
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For the first time since he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for orchestrating a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme, Tom Petters is breaking his silence.
The one-time rising Minnesota business star is now prisoner 14170-041 at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
That’s where Editor in Chief Dale Kurschner of the Twin Cities Business magazine sat down with Petters for an exclusive five-hour interview.
“To go from having it all to all of a sudden being in jail for the rest of your life,” said Kurschner.
The Petters story is one that many Twin Cities journalists have attempted but only Kurschner got. His “Untold Story of Tom Petters,” will fill 14-pages of Twin Cities Business when the May 2012 edition of the magazine comes out April 18th.
“His initial reaction was he felt the media was so negative that there was no reason for him to talk to anybody in the media,” said Kurschner.
Kurschner believes that Petters was finally persuaded after exchanging letters over a six-month period. Kurschner was himself a business owner and had an uncomfortable experience with federal regulators years ago.
The magazine’s chief editor spent five hours inside a sterile visitor’s room at Leavenworth with Petters and a prison guard nearby. Five cameras looked down from the ceiling. Kurschner wasn’t allowed to bring in a camera or tape recorder, so he could only scribble detailed notes of his conversation with the man convicted of overseeing a $3.65 billion Ponzi scheme.
“He says there was never one day that he purposely frauded anybody, and he really didn’t know about this fraud taking place at his company all those years,” Kurschner explained.
The lengthy article begins with an editor’s note and then goes into detail about Petter’s rise and fall, including the raid on his businesses and his arrest inside his Lake Minnetonka home. The story concludes with an extensive question and answer format with Petters.
“It covered everything, from cocaine use to what happened with his personal relationship with Deanna Coleman. (I asked) can you look me in the eye and tell me that you really are innocent?” added Kurschner.
To this day, Petters remains defiant.
“It looks like he’s guilty, you know it really does, but then when you talk with him about it and what was going on in his head and what was going on with what he was being told, it’s a very interesting side of it,” said Kurschner.
When asked for his biggest mistake, Petters replied, “trusting the wrong people and moving way too fast; not checking the truth and veracity of what people told me.”
“I think the story tries to say, here was this up and coming business leader, what happened? And the readers will hear from his perspective what actually happened and why he’s in jail,” Kurschner explained.