Minnesota Lawyer Secures Record-Breaking $564 Million Verdict by Uncovering Destroyed Evidence in Historic Ponzi Scheme Case

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – In a groundbreaking verdict, Michael Collyard ’00, a partner at Robins Kaplan, won a jury trial that resulted in a record-setting $564 million judgment. The case centered around Tom Petters’ massive Ponzi scheme, which was one of the largest financial scams in U.S. history and the largest in Minnesota. Collyard strategically focused on the absence of millions of destroyed documents as evidence, ultimately leading to his victory.

Collyard served as the lead trial counsel, and in November 2022, a federal jury ordered BMO Harris Bank to pay bankruptcy trustee Douglas Kelley a staggering $484 million in compensatory damages, along with $80 million in punitive damages. The inclusion of pre-judgment interest dating back to 2012 could raise the total amount above $1 billion.

The jury found BMO Harris Bank liable for aiding and abetting the breaches of fiduciary duty committed by predecessor M&I Bank. Between 2002 and 2008, Tom Petters and his company laundered nearly $74 billion through M&I Bank, which was subsequently acquired by BMO Harris Bank in 2011.

Douglas Kelley expressed satisfaction with the verdict, stating, “We are very pleased with this verdict. We are eager to get these funds to creditors and investors who were victims of Tom Petters’ fraud.”

Collyard’s pivotal discovery in the case stemmed from a post-discovery email, revealing that BMO Harris Bank had found and subsequently destroyed six backup tapes of Minnesota records in 2014. This act was in direct violation of a federal order mandating the preservation of any found records. During the trial, Collyard skillfully elicited an admission of the destruction from a BMO Harris Bank official during cross-examination. The judge then allowed the jury to make an adverse inference, permitting them to infer that the destroyed documents were detrimental to BMO Harris Bank’s case.

Collyard described the case as “incredibly fun and amazing,” despite the challenges he faced in obtaining evidence and battling five opposing law firms. He expressed gratitude for his legal education at Hamline University School of Law, where he learned valuable trial strategies from adjunct professors, former Hennepin County District Judge Allen Oleisky and the late Mark Gruesner ’77.

Considering the monumental recovery achieved and the jury’s thorough attention to the month-long trial, Collyard reflected on the satisfaction he felt. He remarked, “To get that type of recovery, to understand that the jury sat there for a month and really listened and came to the right conclusion, I can’t even describe it.”

In conclusion, Michael Collyard ’00’s successful representation in the case against BMO Harris Bank resulted in a historic jury verdict of nearly $564 million, setting a new record in Minnesota’s legal history. His rigorous pursuit of evidence, including the discovery of destroyed documents, and effective trial strategies played a crucial role in securing the substantial damages for bankruptcy trustee Douglas Kelley.