Frank Elroy Vennes Jr. is an American multimillionaire and convicted money launderer. He was the primary fundraiser for Tom Petters, who was convicted of organizing a $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme in Minnesota. Vennes was previously convicted on federal charges of money laundering, illegal firearm sales and cocaine distribution in 1987. He experienced a religious transformation while incarcerated and became a major political contributor and business leader after his release in 1990. Vennes' homes were raided by federal agents in connection with the Petters Ponzi scheme in 2008. In July 2011, he was charged with eight counts of securities fraud, six counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, three counts of bank fraud, and two counts of mail fraud. On February 1, 2013, Vennes pleaded guilty to charges of securities fraud and money laundering and on October 18, 2013, he was sentenced to 15 years in Federal prison.
He is CEO of Minnesota businesses Metro Capital, Metro Gold, Metro Gem and Resort Ventures as well as being officer for seven Florida companies, including Metro Riverwatch. A resident of Stuart, Florida, Vennes owns homes in Shorewood, Minnesota and Jupiter, Florida. He served on at least five non-profit boards including a university.
Money laundering conviction
Internal Revenue Service agents investigating suspected money laundering by certain North Dakota car dealers were informed that Vennes, the owner of a pawnshop in Bismarck, North Dakota, had visited Switzerland multiple times and might have experience transferring funds to foreign countries.
Vennes was approached by an undercover IRS agent posing as an investor from Chicago in 1986. He received $370,000 from the agent over the next three months and transferred the funds to offshore accounts in Switzerland, the Isle of Man and the Bahamas. In one transaction, Vennes personally delivered $100,000 to Switzerland. Vennes alleged that his associates had either stolen or lost the $100,000.
Vennes was charged in three indictments in May 1987. He was convicted on federal charges of illegal firearm sales, money laundering and cocaine distribution. He pleaded guilty to the money laundering charge and no contest to the other charges. He was sentenced to five years in federal prison, and served three at the Federal Correctional Institution, Sandstone.
While in prison, Vennes experienced a religious conversion. He was released in 1990 and filed a petition for a pardon. Vennes also filed a suit against IRS, alleging that he had been a victim of entrapment.
Vennes has been a major financial contributor to the campaigns of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. In 2006, he and his family were the top contributors to Bachmann's campaign.
In 2007, Bachmann sent a letter to then-President George W. Bush, recommending that Vennes be pardoned for his crimes. She later withdrew her letter after Vennes' home was raided by federal agents in connection with the Petters Ponzi scheme.
Tom Petters Ponzi scheme
On September 24, 2008, Vennes' Shorewood, Minnesota home was raided by federal agents in connection with an investigation of Minnesota businessman Tom Petters' $3.5 billion Ponzi scheme. In a basement vault, agents discovered stacks of $100 bills, buckets and boxes of gold and silver coins, boxes of gem stones, trays of jewelry and Rolex watches.
In April 2011, Vennes was indicted in federal court on charges of fraudulently marketing a hedge fund's investments in Petters Company, Inc. (PCI). The indictment alleged that Vennes engaged in 748 transactions involving hundreds of millions of dollars from 1999 through September 2008, and made more than $140 million through investments and commissions. On July 19, 2011, Vennes was charged with eight counts of securities fraud, six counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, two counts of mail fraud, three counts of bank fraud, and two counts of making false statements on credit applications.
- U.S. Attorney's Office. "Frank Vennes Sentenced to 15 Years in Federal Prison for Lying to Investors About Petters' Ponzi Scheme". The FBI. US Government. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
- Tevlin, Jon (October 4, 2008). "Reformed convict part of Petters probe". Star Tribune.
- "26 F.3d 1448: Frank E. Vennes, Jr., Plaintiff-appellant, v. an Unknown Number of Unidentified Agents of the Unitedstates of America, Defendants-appellees". United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit. December 17, 1993.
- Grow, Doug (October 20, 2008). "Update: Fallout from Bachmann's interview prompts more funds for her foe, a censure call and a new write-in opponent". MinnPost.
- Bremer, Karl (October 7, 2008). "Bachmann's pardon-gate: More about her letter withdrawing pardon request for Petters associate Vennes". The Minnesota Independent.
- Goldberg, Michelle (April 28, 2011). "Bachmann and Pawlenty's Ponzi Pal". The Daily Beast.
- Birkey, Andy (October 6, 2008). "Bachmann withdraws pardon request that links her to unfolding Petters scandal". The Minnesota Independent.
- Browning, Dan; Phelps, David (April 20, 2011). "Feds indict Petters crony Frank Vennes". Star Tribune.
- "More Federal Charges Filed Against Frank Vennes in Petters' Ponzi Scheme". Federal Bureau of Investigation. July 19, 2011.
- "Three Florida Men Indicted for Lying to Investors About Hedge Fund's Investment with Petters". Federal Bureau of Investigation. April 20, 2011.
- "New indictment charges Petters' associate Frank Vennes with 24 counts in Ponzi scheme". The Republic. Associated Press. July 19, 2011.