A Petaluma man was sentenced in Sonoma Count Superior Court this afternoon to 20 years in prison for bilking dozens of investors of an estimated $20 million through a Ponzi scheme.
Aldo Baccala, 73, pleaded no contest in March to 141 charges that include making false statements to sell securities, grand theft, and elder/dependent financial abuse.
Judge Gary Medvigy indicated in March that he would sentence Baccala to no more than 20 years in prison as part of his plea.
Baccala will serve about 10 years of his term but has two years credit for the time he has already served in the Sonoma County Jail, Deputy Attorney General Ronald Smetana said after the sentencing.
“This was a typical Ponzi scheme. He lied from Day One,” Smetana said.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office objected to the plea agreement in March because Baccala likely would serve only eight years of the 20-year sentence.
Baccala, a former real estate agent, used his Petaluma-based company Baccala Realty, to raise millions of dollars from more than 50 investors for business ventures including assisted living facilities, a car wash and other businesses in California, South Carolina and other states.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office said many of the victims were elderly and knew Baccala and his family for many years.
Baccala used the victims’ money to invest in the stock market and to cover margin calls and trading losses, prosecutors said.
Baccala lost $8 million in the stock market between 2003 and 2008, and as his debt grew, he promised new investors annual returns of up to 27.5 percent, prosecutors said.
Baccala used money from new investors to cover payments to earlier investors, according to the complaint.
In November 2008, Baccala informed investors that he could no longer make promised monthly payments to them. Baccala blamed the losses on the collapse of the banks and the economy, but Medvigy said, “We wouldn’t be here but for your intentional acts.”
The judge said Baccala gambled with the investors’ money on Wall Street. For the purposes of sentencing, the court set the losses at $3.2 million and then doubled that to $6.4 million.
Medvigy said he considered Baccala’s age and lack of a criminal record in his sentencing decision. He said Baccala was an “upstanding father and member of the community but for these charges.”
The judge, however, said the loss to investors was “unfathomable” and that some of the investors considered Baccala their best friend, and his charisma led them to place their trust in him, Medvigy said.
“There was a lot of collateral damage here,” Medvigy said.
Linda Musick, of the Petaluma area, said she lost $2 million.
“We just want to see him spend the rest of his life in prison,” she said.
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office began an investigation in January 2009 and Baccala was arrested in June 2012.
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