MINNEAPOLIS - Former Minnesota Vikings tight end Stu Voigt was sentenced Thursday to six months in federal prison and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine for his role in a bank fraud scheme.
"All my life I have worked hard and always tried to do the right thing, to help other people," Voigt told U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz. "This has been shameful and humiliating, the darkest day of my life."
A jury last February found Voigt guilty of one count of committing bank fraud against the First Commercial Bank of Bloomington, which was later shut down by the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce.
According to prosecutors Voigt, while running the bank in 2007, approved a line of credit for developer Jeffrey Gardner. Neither man disclosed, as part of the transaction, that Gardner already owed Voigt $4.5 million.
"Both Stu Voigt and Jeff Gardner will forever be convicted felons and they’re both going to federal prison," Ken Resnick, a long-time professional wrestling announcer who was among those who lost their life savings in an investment deal that fell flat.
Resnick said he had known Voigt for 30 years and even vacationed with him. He had every reason to believe it was safe to invest in Gardner's investments.
"Between my mother and I we lost $792,000. It’s devastating when you’ve worked and saved your entire life, never overspending, and suddenly all of your assets are gone."
Resnick sued Voigt and settled out of court, so he can't discuss the crux of the case. Ron Yary, another former Viking who invested and lost money, was also a major plaintiff in that lawsuit.
Resnick credits his civil attorney, Kevin Magnuson, with uncovering evidence that aided prosecutors and banking regulators. Magnuson pored over First Commercial's records, which had been sent to Republic Bank in Louisville, Kentucky after that institution purchased the bank.
"Over a course of a number of years we were able to uncover quite a bit of evidence that I think was eventually used in part by the government in the criminal case," Magnuson told KARE.
"But they were looking at Jeff Gardner from the beginning. Ken, and other victims who were completely devastated, kept the pressure on the US attorney’s office."
Jurors in February convicted Gardner was of 11 counts of fraud, including mail fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on a loan application. Prosecutors said Gardner used money invested in his company, Hennessey Financial LLC, to repay earlier investors and pay off other debts rather than putting them into real estate developments.
Judge Schiltz on Wednesday sentenced Gardner to 7 and a half years in federal prison, rejecting defense argument that Gardner and his investors simply victims of the housing market collapse.
Voigt did not testify at the trial, and his defense attorney Joe Friedberg told the judge that Voigt doesn't remember taking the actions that led to his prosecution. Friedberg also argued that his client suffers some cognitive losses due to head injuries during his 10 years in the NFL, and that complicated the efforts of defense lawyers.
He said Voigt, who is 68 years old, suffers from severe headaches for half of every day, has a fused spine, and will need shoulder replacement surgery in the near future.
Judge Schiltz said he understood Voigt's physical condition will make prison more difficult, but hasn't seen any evidence that his injuries affected his behavior as the chairman of First Commercial Bank.
The judge also decided that Voigt will not have to pay restitution to the bank, because he could not have foreseen that the collateral for Gardner's loans weren't secured. The law firm that was tasked with the routine duty of filing the lien papers on Gardner's assets failed to do so.
The judge asked if Voigt wanted to express a preference for the federal prison in Duluth, but he chose not to do so. So the prison location will be determined at a later date.
Judge Schiltz ordered Voigt to report for prison Nov. 28, which will allow him time to spend Thanksgiving with his family.
Voigt played tight end for the Vikings from 1970 to 1980.