In re the Marriage of: Joyce Marie Peterson, petitioner, Respondent,
David Lee Peterson, Appellant.
Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-FA-08-3522.
Robb L. Olson, Geck, Duea & Olson, PLLC, White Bear Lake, Minnesota (for respondent)
Kay Nord Hunt, Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and John R. Schulz, Corey J. Ayling, McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Cleary, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Willis, Judge. [*]
Appellant challenges the district court's determination that he dissipated marital assets through an investment scheme and the resulting property division and spousal maintenance award. Because the district court failed to apply the criteria set forth in the dissipation statute, Minn. Stat. § 518.58, subd. 1a, in making its findings of fact, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Appellant David Peterson and respondent Joyce Peterson were married in September 1980. Around the time that the parties were married, appellant began working at two electronics shops while he attended college. As a result of gaining experience in entertainment system design through his work at electronics stores, appellant did not obtain a college degree and instead started a business in 1985 called Peterson's Entertainment Design, Inc. (PED). PED designs and installs high-end electronics, entertainment, and lighting systems for individual and corporate clients. The business was successful until at least 2008, with gross receipts exceeding two million dollars some years, from which appellant received an annual salary between $180, 000 and $400, 000. The parties also accrued wealth through several investment accounts, but invested directly in at least two schemes that appear to have lost all value, including one associated with Tom Petters. The parties enjoyed a relatively luxurious lifestyle, which included owning a homestead and lake home, each worth more than a million dollars.
The dissipation claim is based on events that occurred in August and September of 2007. Appellant testified that, around that time, K.V., who was a client of PED and the brother-in-law of a PED employee, told him about "a lawyer in California that ha[d] put together a currency trading platform that uses collateralized money." Appellant testified that he spent approximately 50 hours in conversations with Jeffrey Dennis Ferentz, the lawyer from California, about the investment. Appellant testified that he saw or had copies of numerous documents relating to the investment, including "a copy of a $100 million deposit in a UBS Bank in Switzerland, " a copy of "the bank certificate  in Jeffrey Dennis Ferentz's name, " a screen shot of account information for the currency trading, and other documents.
Appellant indicated that he was initially unconvinced about the investment, despite these documents, but was invited to fly to Zurich, Switzerland, on a private jet to "consummate th[e] platform." Just before the trip, appellant wired $100, 000 to Ferentz's "private client trust account, " and $100, 000 to the wife of Todd Rocha, an associate of Ferentz, on Ferentz's promise that he could have the money back if he "didn't like what [he] saw." Both of these transfers came from PED business accounts.
The trip took place on August 8 or 9, 2007. On the private plane were Ferentz and his wife, Rocha and his wife, K.V., and appellant. Appellant testified that they discussed the investment at length on the plane, where he was shown the original certificate of deposit from UBS Bank. Once in Zurich, the group went to UBS Bank, where armed guards purportedly took only Ferentz to meet with the currency trader, while the rest of the group waited in the lobby.
After the trip to Zurich, appellant met with Rocha and gave him $400, 000 from the parties' personal account. Appellant testified that when he met with Rocha, Rocha indicated that he had another investment opportunity in an entity called Synertech and gave appellant various documents pertaining to the Synertech investment, which appellant put in the same folder with other documents related to the Ferentz investment. Notably, these documents refer to a "Brazilian principal/co-owner" for that entity. But appellant testified that he was not interested in that opportunity because Ferentz himself was not involved, and his involvement in the Ferentz investment was predicated on Ferentz, his reputation as an attorney and as the author of a book on how to identify and avoid financial investment scams, and his documentation of the investment. Appellant testified that, after giving the $400, 000 check to Rocha, the participants in the investment sent a number of e-mails indicating that the investment was moving forward. In reliance on those e-mails, appellant participated in a second round of funding, investing another $350, 000 in the first week of September 2007. In total, appellant invested $950, 000, of which $400, 000 came from the parties' personal account and $550, 000 came from PED business accounts. A document dated August 28, 2007, and purportedly drafted by Ferentz on his law firm stationery, set forth the terms of appellant's agreement with Rocha, under which appellant was to receive four million dollars per month for an estimated 60 months.
Around the time of the trip to Switzerland, appellant told a golfing friend, who was a real estate investor and developer, about the investment. This golfing friend, on the basis of appellant's understanding of the investment, wired $400, 000 to Ferentz for investment in the purported second round of funding. The golfing friend testified that he was comfortable relying on appellant's representations about the investment because he believed appellant was "not the type of guy who's going to write a check for large sums of money without doing . . . pretty detailed due diligence." Though the golfing friend ...