February 1, 1998

Agent paints Petersen as loan-sharking mobster

Bill Morlin The Spokesman-Review
 

A Spokane businessman accused of swindling a Montana bank out of millions paid living expenses for two mistresses, supplied them with cocaine and gave them cash for sex, a federal agent testified Friday.

John Earl Petersen, who is married, was described in court testimony Friday as an organized crime figure involved in loan-sharking, bank fraud and strong-arm tactics.

Petersen loaned Pete Guglielmo of Santa Barbara, Calif., $50,000, and demanded $80,000 in repayment, Treasury agent David Benscoter testified.

Petersen wrote threatening letters to Guglielmo, implying the California man was going to end up dead in a ditch, Benscoter said.

When Guglielmo balked, Petersen sent Anthony Nobile, “one of his two goons,” to California to collect the debt.

Nobile, previously convicted of attempted murder, said he was collecting the money for organized crime, and Guglielmo was coerced into repaying $80,000, Benscoter testified.

Federal investigators followed Nobile to Santa Barbara, but didn’t make arrests during the shakedown last year to allow the larger money-laundering and bank fraud investigation to unfold, the agent said.

Another of Petersen’s “goons,” Joseph Fekete of Spokane, was sent to collect a $300 debt from a Spokane man who bought a pair of car fenders from Petersen.

Fekete was “instructed to break the guy’s legs because he hadn’t paid for the fenders,” Benscoter testified. Another witness, Brad Templeton, told investigators that Petersen boasted that he could have “anybody killed for $100,000” and knew a hit man.

The detailed testimony came during a two-hour detention hearing Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice that Petersen is a flight risk or danger while he awaits trial on federal charges.

Imbrogno ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to take Petersen to Montana, where he was indicted Thursday on 12 counts of bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Petersen had nothing to say as he was being led from court in handcuffs and a jail jump suit.

Petersen was the target of a four-year investigation involving IRS, FBI, Customs and drug task force agents.

Petersen, 45, lived at 307 W. 24th and had a business office at 327 W. 8th.

He has operated various businesses, including JC Investment Group, J&M Investments and CJP Idaho.

“I determined that none of his businesses are legitimate businesses,” Benscoter testified.

“I’ve determined that Mr. Petersen has had no legitimate income since 1988 or 1989,” he said later.

Petersen was arrested Thursday, accused of being the mastermind behind the $10.5 million collapse of the Mountain Bank of Whitefish.

Bank president Werner Schreiber of Kalispell and three bank officers, including vice president Marlene I. Havens, were indicted in the scheme and have pleaded guilty.

As part of plea bargains, they are helping federal investigators and have agreed to testify against Petersen.

The northwestern Montana bank lost an estimated $10.5 million over six years, beginning in 1990, and Petersen is believed to have hauled in $6.3 million, Benscoter testified.

Petersen spent an estimated $2 million on living expenses, including lavish parties, boats, antique cars, jewelry and gambling trips to Las Vegas, Benscoter testified.

Part of that money, investigators determined, went to two of Petersen’s mistresses.

“He paid their monthly rent, paid their monthly expenses,” Benscoter testified. “Each time he had sex with them, he paid them,” the agent testified. “He also gave them cocaine.”

Investigators have been unable to track the whereabouts of the other $4million Petersen is accused of embezzling from the Montana bank, Benscoter testified.

Petersen’s wife, Carol, who is not accused of wrongdoing, is aware of his mistresses, Benscoter said.

“She indicated that it was a marriage of convenience,” he testified.

Petersen gave his wife generous amounts of cash “and she got to travel anywhere she wanted and spend as much money as she liked,” the agent said.

Benscoter said Petersen has been involved in “scam after scam after scam,” even defrauding his own mother in a $40,000 house sale.

“You don’t like Mr. Petersen, do you?” defense attorney John E. Lamp asked the investigator.

Benscoter ducked the question and responded: “Actually, he’s an amazing person to be able to pull off this scheme.”

He went on to describe Petersen as a “smooth-talking and very convincing man” who “likes to flaunt his wealth.

“No one knows what Mr. Petersen does for a living, but he likes to spend money,” Benscoter testified.

Lamp asked the agent why someone who allegedly has $4 million in hidden assets would send an enforcer to collect $300 for car fenders. “Does that make any sense?” Lamp asked.

“Knowing John Petersen, absolutely,” Benscoter responded.


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