Watch CBSN Live

Ponzi-Scheming Tom Petters Can't Beat Bernie Madoff (So to Speak), But Still Gets 50 Years

Tom Petters (Sherburne County Jail)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CBS/AP) - A federal judge has sentenced former Minnesota tycoon Tom Petters to 50 years in prison for his part in a Ponzi scheme that prosecutors said cost investors $3.7 billion.

Not quite in Bernie Madoff's league -- 150 years for ripping off an estimated $18 billion -- but still, a notable criminal achievement.

Victims of Petter's scheme include various hedge funds, pastors, missionaries, and retirees. In December, a jury convicted the one-time owner of Polaroid and Sun Country Airlines on 20 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Petter and his attorneys claimed his biggest mistake was trusting his business associates at Petters Group Worldwide.  His testimony was not convincing enough for U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle who did not believe for one minute that the business mogul was unaware of the fraud within his operations.

"Mr. Petters was captain of the ship," Kyle told a packed courtroom that included Petters' relatives as well as some victims.

Prosecutors also went after Tom Petters with a vengeance, especially Joe Dixon.

"The defendant's fraud is beyond comprehension in size and scope," Dixon wrote. "The offense is the largest fraud in the history of Minnesota. Indeed, there are only a handful of fraud schemes that are even comparable in the history of the United States."

Although prosecutors pushed for an even longer sentence, Judge Kyle sentenced Petters to 50 years behind bars, and even with credit for good behavior, he's headed for at least 41 years.

After the sentencing, Petters' attorneys released a statement that read: "We are saddened by the verdict and sentence. There is no victory for anyone when a vibrant young man is placed into a prison cell for the balance of his days and nights."

Best case scenario, Petters will be 93 years old before he's a free man.

View CBS News In