A Petaluma real estate agent and his wife are being sued by a group of investors who claim the couple defrauded them out of more than $22 million in loans used mostly for East Coast nursing homes and a Northern California mushroom farm.

Aldo and Karen Baccala were named in a lawsuit filed late Tuesday in Sonoma County Superior Court by 71 individual investors including some prominent local residents.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims the Baccalas misrepresented the value of their businesses and sometimes secured multiple loans for the same investment for their own personal profit.

?We?re really not sure what the hell was going on,? said Robert Mattei, a former Petaluma department store owner who, along with his brother James, invested more than $1 million with the Baccalas. ?I know it wiped out some people?s life savings.?

Both Baccala, 67, and his wife, 66, declined to comment.

In a letter to investors dated Nov. 5, Aldo Baccala said he was suspending monthly payments on loans, some of which paid as high as 15 percent interest. In the lawsuit investors claiml they can?t get interest or principal payments from the company.

He blamed the credit crunch and the economic downturn coupled with the cost of the existing debt service, which he said left him without the liquidity to make payments.

Baccala said he would sell assisted living centers and refinance Premier Mushrooms LP to help pay down the debt within the next two years.

But investors were not satisfied.

In addition to the lawsuit, the Sonoma County District Attorney?s office is investigating to determine if possible criminal offenses occurred.

?At this point, we are gathering information from people who believe they may be a victim of a crime,? prosecutor Christine Cook said.

People with information about the case are asked to call the district attorney?s investigation bureau at 565-2011.