Armitage strikes plea deal on eve of Ponzi scheme trial

Gary T. Armitage, a former Santa Rosa investment adviser accused of helping bilk North Coast residents out of hundreds of millions of dollars, has reached a plea bargain with prosecutors on the eve of his long-delayed trial.

The Healdsburg native and former owner of AGA Financial on Friday pleaded no contest to four felony counts in Shasta County Superior County in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence, according to the state Attorney General's Office and news accounts.

Armitage, 62, and alleged co-conspirator James Koenig of Redding were facing a lengthy trial set to begin Jan. 29 and the possibility of more than 50 years in prison each.

Under the plea agreement, Armitage entered pleas to conspiracy and securities fraud, according to an email alert sent by the Attorney General's Office to victims.

It is unclear if he will testify against Koenig, but the email suggested the agreement could speed what had been expected to be a five-month trial.

The case, with 2,000 victims statewide, is considered one of the largest Ponzi schemes in state history.

Armitage, Koenig and Jeffrey Guidi were arrested in 2009 after a 17-month investigation. Then-Attorney General Jerry Brown said the men "callously swindled thousands of individuals out of $200 million to bankroll their extravagant lifestyles."

North Coast victims took little solace in the plea deal.

"He deserves it," said Lynn Luthi of Oakmont, who lost the entire $700,000 nest egg she placed with Armitage.

Luthi said she has been forced to take out a reverse mortgage on her home to survive. Money today is tight, but "it's holding out because I'm so old," said Luthi, 89.

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