NORTH MANKATO — William Hickok can finally speak freely.
For weeks the auto parts manager has been under a court order to remain mum about his work serving as a juror for the Tom Petters fraud trial. That ended Wednesday after he joined fellow jurors in finding Petters guilty of using a Ponzi scheme to steal $3.5 billion from investors.
Now there’s a pile of work waiting for Hickok at his real job. He’s left 4,100 miles worth of tire tread between his home in North Mankato and the federal courthouse in St. Paul. And there’s a mountain of family time owed to his wife and two kids.
But it’s all been worth the experience of having a first-hand role in a high-profile trial, he said.
“This case had everything you’d see in a big screen movie,” Hickok said. “It had all the players, all the big-name businessmen out of Minneapolis.”
Hickok has spent the past several days deciding Petters’ fate as he and the other jurors deliberated. It was a job he took seriously, knowing Petters could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The jury had already spent weeks listening to testimony. There were hundreds of text messages, hours of recordings from hidden wires and stacks of documents to pore through.
The indictment alone — which included 20 federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy — was 49 pages. Jurors went through each count and considered evidence from both sides before deciding whether Petters should be found guilty.
“After the first day, we’d only made it through one count,” Hickok said. “We wanted to make sure we did our due diligence.”
The documents led to Petters’ demise, Hickok said. There were several large rolling carts, similar to the carts shoppers can use at Sam’s Club, piled high with plastic containers full of evidence.
One item that stood out for Hickok was an envelope found at the Petters Co. Inc. offices when they were raided in 2008. It contained pages of paper that had been altered to look like invoices from businesses.
Scraps of paper had been cut from real invoices and glued to falsified documents. Real documents had been altered to change the amounts of money and merchandise involved in a transaction. Prosecutors said the flimsy documents were copied, then sent to investors who wanted to know how their money was being used.
“They looked like the crafts you do as kids in school,” Hickok said. “It was just very, very interesting. These were smart people. One was a former IBM executive. They just got caught up in it.
“Once they were in so far, there was no turning back. Just like we tell our kids: One lie leads to another.”
Petters used the documents to convince investors he was buying real merchandise and selling it. He was really using their money to pay off other investors, purchase multi-million dollar houses and invest in legitimate businesses, Hickok said.
Many of the victims who were called to testify were as well known in the Twin Cities business community as Petters. Hickok said it was fascinating to listen to people such as Irwin Jacobs and Ted Deikel testify about money they lost to Petters. Jacobs is known for owning businesses like Grain Belt and Lund Boats. Deikel caught the state’s attention several years ago when he purchased Minnetonka-based Fingerhut with Petters.
“They would talk about $4 million like you and I would talk about $40,” Hickok said.
Hearing Petters’ testimony about his son being murdered was difficult on a personal level, Hickok said. But he didn’t believe Petters had lost track of what was going on at PCI as a result of the tragedy. There was too much evidence showing Petters was very aware of what was going on.
“I don’t think that had anything to do with his business deals,” Hickok said. “There was no possible way he knew nothing about it. Not with all the evidence that was provided.
“We definitely came to the right conclusion.”
Cindy Hickok, William’s wife, said she’s ready to have him home and working regular hours at his job as the parts manager for Luther Mankato Honda.
Since the trial started at the end of October, except for weekends and a five-day break for Thanksgiving, her husband has been getting up at 5 a.m and driving to the federal courthouse in St. Paul. Most nights he was home by 6:30 p.m. Some nights, after a long day in court, he would just stay in a St. Paul hotel.
“I’ve been a Petters widow,” Cindy Hickok said. “I’m glad it’s over. It was very stressful for the whole family.”
She’s also looking forward to being able to finally discuss the Petters case with her husband. She’s been gathering stories about the trial from every source she can find on the Internet. William wouldn’t even answer simple questions, such as whether he thought the jury would be done deliberating before Thanksgiving.
“About the only thing he could tell me is whether he was coming home that night or not,” she said. “He’d keep saying, ‘I can’t talk about that.’ I bet, if I had a dollar every time he said that, I’d be a millionaire.”
William Hickok glad to go back to regular routine
NORTH MANKATO — William Hickok can finally speak freely.
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