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Episode 55: Generous with Other People's Money

Case File

Generous with Other People's Money
Billionaire Tom Petters was a respected CEO for more than a decade. His companies included iconic American brands like Polaroid and Sun Country Airlines. But these legitimate businesses were purchased with dirty money. Petters' reputation was built on a foundation of lies.

Generous with Other People's Money

  • The Golden Boy
  • Minnesota businessman Tom Petters appeared to be at the top of his game. He was the founder, CEO and sole owner of Petters Group Worldwide. He boasted billions in revenue and ownership of 150 companies including Polaroid and Sun Country Airlines. Petters' sterling reputation helped bring in billions of investment dollars from people around the world.
  • The Scam
  • Petters sold promissory notes through his wholesale brokerage firm Petters Company Inc., offering stunning returns of 15 to 20 percent. The company offered financing on the niche business known as diverting. Investors believed PCI was dealing in electronics and consumer goods. But there was no real merchandise bought and sold…and no real profits. Petters was running a con.
  • The Empire Falls
  • For 10 years, PCI secured hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from unsuspecting clients. Petters and a small cadre of employees covered up the scam by forging documents on fake deals. Law enforcement had no idea what Petters was up to until his "Girl Friday" decided to save herself and take her boss down.

Web Extras

  • Rise and Fall of a Multibillion-Dollar Ponzi Scheme Wednesday, 7 Mar 2012 | 12:23 PM ET
    Before anyone had heard of Bernie Madoff, Minnesota businessman Tom Petters carried out the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. His company, Petters Group Worldwide, owned brands like Polaroid and Fingerhut, as well as a controlling share of Sun Country Airlines. As federal agents learned, though, these legitimate businesses were propped up entirely by a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme. Petters sold promissory notes through his wholesale brokerage firm Petters Co. Inc., offering stunning returns of

    Before anyone had heard of Bernie Madoff, Minnesota businessman Tom Petters carried out the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.

  • Can You Be Ponzied and Not Even Know It? Friday, 24 Feb 2012 | 1:34 PM ET

    We hear about it almost every day—investors across the country are being ripped off through fraud schemes. Learn the warning signs and how to protect yourself against individuals who are only interested in making your money theirs.

  • Tom Petters: Ponzi Scheme     Friday, 24 Feb 2012 | 12:00 AM ET

    Doug Kelley was appointed by the court to handle Petters' company following charges of fraud. He explains how Petters funded over 150 different companies.

  • Tom Petters' Lifestyle     Friday, 24 Feb 2012 | 12:00 AM ET

    Local reporter David Phelps gives us a tour of Tom Petters' lakeside home in Minneapolis.

  • Petters' Trial Exhibits Friday, 7 Sep 2012 | 1:38 PM ET

    Bob White forged more than 10, 000 phony purchase orders, bank statements and other documents to keep the Petters Ponzi going for more than a decade.

  • Petters' Indictment Friday, 7 Sep 2012 | 1:38 PM ET

    Read the government’s charges against Tom Petters in this superseding indictment.

American Greed Showtimes

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The Prisoner of Wall Street
Saturday, April 19th 1a, 3a ET/PT
$udden Death/ Hip Hop Hustle
Sunday, April 20th 1a, 3a ET/PT
Check the U.S. TV schedule for additional showtimes.
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