SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A South Dakota man who styled himself as “The Tiger” and was convicted in July 2019 of bilking investors in a fish farm scheme has lost an appeal over the justification for his 9-year prison sentence.
Tobias Ritesman, formerly head of Global Aquaponics, had appealed his case to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming the U.S. District Court of South Dakota erred when it sent him to prison for wire fraud and mail fraud, based partly on what's known as an "abuse of trust enhancement."
In his appeal, Ritesman claimed he had not held a “position of public or private trust" and had a borrower/investor relationship with those he defrauded.
The court on Aug. 25 rejected Ritesman’s appeal, upholding the district court’s ruling and calling it reasonable.
“On these facts, this argument is a stretch,” the court said of Ritesman's appeal, in its barely two-page-long ruling.
It’s not clear if Ritesman will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. His chief counsel, Assistant Federal Public Defender Rachael Steenholdt, asked on Friday, Aug, 28, for the public defender’s office to be removed from representing Ritesman, saying there was little expectation the high court would accept his case.
The public defender's office also declined to ask for the full appeals court panel of judges to hear the case, saying there was no reasonable grounds to do so.
A call to Steenholdt for comment was referred to Jason Tupman, federal public defender for the districts of North and South Dakota, who declined to comment.
Ritesman was sentenced to serve time in jail for fraud in July 2019. Ritesman, who called himself “The Tiger,” founded an umbrella company named Ritesman Enterprises in 2012, opened a splashy downtown Sioux Falls office, and later started a number of companies underneath it, including Global Aquaponics, ostensibly to open an aquaponics facility near Brookings, S.D.
Prosecutors made the case that between May 2016 and August 2017, Ritesman and Timothy Burns, another Global Aquaponics executive, took in $1.03 million in investments for the project from 34 investors. The two then took the money to use for their own purposes. Burns was sentenced in September 2019 to four-and-a-half years in prison.