SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We’re in the first full day of the Global Aquaponics trial in Sioux Falls.
Tim Burns faces five counts of federal wire fraud and aiding and abetting. Attorneys say he helped Tobias Ritesman scam investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last week, Ritesman pleaded guilty to 18 federal fraud charges
On Wednesday morning, two men who were recruited to sell shares in the Global Aquaponics project to investors took the stand. Both said they went to the FBI to report what was happened after the realized that the business wasn’t on the up and up.
As KELOLAND Investigates reported, Gregg Selberg later sued Ritesman and Burns and Global Aquaponics for $400,00 in backpay and benefits he said he was owed.
On the stand Wednesday, Selberg testified that he and Jeremiah Charlson sold more than $500,000 worth of shares in the project to investors. Selberg said in the fall of 2016, Burns behavior began to change and he was a “raging bull” in office.
In October of 2016, Selberg and Charlson met with Ritesman and his attorney and told them they suspected Burns of misappropriation of funds and foul play. Selberg said they were told to just “go out and sell more units” in the company to investors. At that point, Selberg said he felt betrayed and stopped selling the project.
Prosecutors also showed the jury an August 2016 contract that Burns had for his own company for $1 million that was non-refundable for construction of the project. Selberg testified that was never disclosed to investors and he never would have accepted the sales position had he known it.
The prosecution showed the jury our KELOLAND News video of the groundbreaking on June 7, 2016. Burns was identified several times in this video.
Other evidence in the case also shows Burns holding joint bank accounts with Ritesman or being a “signer” on his accounts for a period of time.
Wednesday afternoon, at least eight investors who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the scheme took the stand. Some of them testified that they were told that Global Aquaponics had at least $5 million on hand and owned the land where the facility was supposed to be built. Ritesman admitted in court he didn’t have the money and didn’t own the land.
Only one investor was able to get his money back. Tom Palmer testified that when he realized the facility wasn’t being built, he asked Global Aquaponics officials for a refund. Palmer says former Board of Regents President and state legislator Dean Krogman gave him a personal check for the amount.
You may remember that Krogman traded in a home he owned to pay for the land for the project nearly a year after the groundbreaking. Krogman has never spoken publicly about his involvement with Global Aquaponics. But he may be called as a witness in Burns’ trial.
The trial is expected to last five days.