In an unusual twist of events, a Sonoma County man accused of masterminding a $20 million Ponzi scheme has accepted a deal offered by a California state judge - and opposed by prosecutors - that calls for him to plead no contest to 140 felony counts in exchange for a maximum 20-year prison term. Aldo Baccala, 73, accepted the offer from Judge Gary Medvigy on the eve of his scheduled trial in which he had faced a prison term of up to 160 years if convicted. According to prosecutor Robin Hammond, the State Attorney General's office opposed the 20-year sentence, as a similar offer had previously been rejected by Baccala, and instead was seeking a sentence of 64 to 68 years.
According to authorities, Baccala owned and operated Baccala Realty, Inc. From 2003 to 2008, Baccala solicited potential investors, many of whom were elderly and family friends of Baccala, by promising annual returns exceeding twelve percent in return for investment in one of Baccala's ventures that included assisted living facilities, a car wash, and other businesses. Potential investors were assured that each project was secured by a first or second deed of trust on the property. However, in reality, no deed of trust was ever recorded. Instead, Baccala used the more than $20 million raised to make speculative bets in the stock market, which yielded losses of at least $8 million from 2003 to 2008. Additionally, investor funds were used to make purported interest payments to existing investors. As Baccala's losses grew, he continued to solicit new investors, offering increased rates of return of up to 27.5%.
At a hearing on Monday, Judge Medvigy offered to limit Baccala's sentence to no more than twenty years if he would plead no contest, citing Baccala's elderly age and “blameless life” and gave him until Wednesday morning to mull the deal. While the deal would limit the maximum sentence to a twenty-year term, Judge Medvigy declined to set a minimum sentence, indicating that he wanted to first hear from victims.
Sentencing is scheduled for June 3, 2014. If Baccala receives the maximum twenty-year sentence, he could be released in under a decade due to parole and time served.
A copy of the criminal complaint is below: