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Trial Begins For Former Viking Accused In Ponzi Scheme

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The banks fraud trial of former Minnesota Vikings player Stu Voigt got underway in federal court Monday.

Voigt and his former business partner Jeffery Gardner are charged in what prosecutors says was a $20 million Ponzi scheme that left some investors broke.

Both have pleaded not guilty to charges related to the alleged Ponzi scheme.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the two raised money from private investors in connection with Gardner's business, Hennessey Financial, promising returns of 10 to 20 percent annually. However, the two are accused of using the funds to instead repay previous investors and pay off Gardner's debts from his other companies.

Gardner and Voigt then allegedly began to set up new companies and new bank accounts to funnel money away from Hennessey.

Investigators said Gardner knew Hennessey was failing but continued to lie to investors.

Voigt played for the Vikings for ten years between 1970 and 1980, and for the next 20 years broadcast the Vikings games on radio, including on WCCO-AM.

Voigt's high-powered legal team of Joe Friedberg and Andy Birrell took the unusual step of delaying their opening statement to the middle of the trial.

Voigt is accused of fraudulently using his position as chairman of First Commercial Bank in Bloomington to obtain loans to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat. The criminal charges Voigt faces focus on his role as chair, and  what prosecutors say was his failure to let the bank know that Hennessy and its founder were deeply in debt. Voigt himself put $4 million of his own money into in Hennessey.

Voigt is expected to testify in his defense and it's possible that the defense may introduce concussion experts to testify that Voigt's decade in the NFL may have affected his memory.

Among those on the witness list are NFL Hall of Famer Ron Yary, who played on the Vikings with Voigt and in 2014 settled a $1 million lawsuit against Voigt claiming Voigt had mislead him and others into investing in Hennessey.

Voigt declined a comment as he entered court.

The trial could last up to three weeks. During jury selection, the judge told potential jurors they're not allowed to treat Voigt any better or worse just because he's famous.

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