Fraud alleged at Sun Country, Fingerhut firm
What do Sun Country Airlines, which has served passengers from both Tampa International and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International airports, and a 12,000-square-foot mansion on the South Florida coast have to do with one another?
Both were owned by a Tom Petters, one of the Minneapolis area's best known entrepreneurs whose conglomerate at one time boasted such corporate names as Fingerhut and Polaroid. Now the founder of Petters Group Worldwide has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of masterminding a more than $2-billion fraud at the company, and was ordered held without bail by a federal judge. Petters, 51, was arrested Oct. 3 on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering at the Minnetonka, Minn., company. A judge said that Petters, who faces as many as 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges, was "readying" to move to his Florida estate.
The Florida home pictured on Ocean Boulevard in Manalapan was valued at $8.75-million in 2005, and boasts five bedrooms, 7.5 bathrooms, three stories and a 2007 tax bill of more than $150,000.
Federal investigators' first inkling of a possible investment fraud involving Petters came Sept. 8, when one of his longtime employees approached them and said she had helped him bilk more than $3-billion from unwitting investors, according to coverage in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Joe Dixon, an assistant U.S. attorney in charge of white-collar crime prosecutions in Minnesota, told the newspaper the government knew nothing about the scheme until Deanna Coleman, vice president of operations for the Petters company, confessed to her involvement and offered to help authorities investigate Petters.
Meanwhile, Sun Country this week filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist