What Made Tom Petters Run?

In Minneapolis last week, business mogul Tom Petters was found guilty on all 20 counts for running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded people out of over $3 billion. What kind of a person would do this?

Although I don’t know Mr. Petters, I’ve worked as a criminal defense lawyer for over 30 years and have represented/defended a few criminals like Petters but never anyone stealing such big. amounts. Unlike other criminals types, these guys have a unique personality type that’s fascinating. In addition, I had an uncle (long dead) who operated several scams and Ponzi schemes in the Twin City area before he was chased out of town. I remember him well.

SKILLS; Most of these types are very attractive–physically and personally. You can’t help but like them. They’re wonderful salesmen with all the skills of the best. Charming and persuasive, they could lie big–without even a tug from their conscience. Almost all were smart even if they weren’t well educated.

ATTITUDE: My uncle and others I’ve represented, shared an attitude that combined arrogance with ambition–not unusal in many people. The difference was the con men couldn’t wait for their ambiitons. They couldn’t take the time and effort necessary to build a legitimate business. Instead, they deserved immediate success. Most thought they were smarter than others, therefore they didn’t have to wait like the rest of us to grow their businesses.

Many came from poorer backgrounds and I suspect they harbored a deep suspicion that since things were stacked against them anyway, they may as well steal to get what they deserved. Each sucker or victim they conned represented a score against the “system” the con men were trying to beat–like a game. Another skill was the ability to lie convincingly to anyone. The more intimidating the challenge, the greater the “game” was to the con man.

SECURITY: Obviously, they coudn’t invest the money they stole so they spent it lavishly. Security was irrelevant to them–they didn’t have any except for their brains and guts to pull off the next con. I can’t think of many friends who could live peacefully without some security. Imagine the type of person who has only their ability to score another con for tomorrow’s food.

Surprisingly, the defendants I’ve represented readily admit their crime when confronted but have always had an excuse or a lie about how things happened to avoid the penalty.

Do you know anyone like this? What’s their story? Tell me about the personalities.

Go to my web site at www.colintnelson.com

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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