General Crime

* Aldo Joseph Baccala Pleads Not Guilty to Alleged Fraud and Theft Ponzi Scheme

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A Petaluma man suspected of stealing $20 million from dozens of investors in an alleged securities fraud Ponzi scheme pleaded not guilty today to the 164 charges filed against him in Sonoma County Superior Court. Aldo Joseph Baccala, 71, will appear in court again Aug. 9 for a settlement conference. He is being held under $2 million bail in the Sonoma County jail. Baccala is charged with 131 counts of making untrue statements or omissions to buy and sell securities, 24 counts of grand theft, elder financial abuse and one count of securities fraud.

The criminal complaint alleges the crimes resulted in a $3.2 million loss. Court records show 85 plaintiffs were awarded a total of $21 million in a civil suit settlement with the Aldo and Karen Baccala Trust in March 2009. The criminal complaint alleges Baccala used his Petaluma-based company, Baccala Realty, to raise millions of dollars from more than 50 investors for ventures, including assisted living facilities, a car wash and other businesses in California, South Carolina and other states.

Many of the victims were elderly and knew Baccala and his family for many years, Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a news release. They were promised annual returns of 12 percent or more to invest in a specific project that was supposed to be secured by a first or second deed of trust on the property, prosecutors said. None of the promised deeds of trust were ever recorded and the funds raised were not used as promised, according to the complaint.

Baccala allegedly used the victims’ money to invest in the stock market and to cover margin calls and stock trading losses, prosecutors said. Baccala lost $8 million in the stock market between 2003 and 2008, and as his debts grew, he promised new investors annual returns of up to 27.5 percent to cover payments to earlier investors, according to the complaint. Baccala issued letters to investors in November 2008 informing them he would no longer make promised monthly payments. After receiving complaints, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office began investigating Baccala Realty in January 2009.

Baccala was arrested June 5. Baccala’s attorney Stephen Gallenson said some of the plaintiffs who settled the civil suit stipulated there was no elder abuse or misconduct.

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