Petaluma real estate agent arrested in $20 million Ponzi scheme

A Petaluma real estate agent was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of stealing more than $20 million from dozens of investors in a Ponzi scheme.

Aldo Baccala, 71, was charged with 167 felony counts of grand theft, securities fraud and elder abuse and was being held on $2 million bail at the Sonoma County Jail, District Attorney Jill Ravitch said.

Baccala's arrest comes more than three years after Baccala reached a $21 million settlement with 75 investors who sued him for failing to return millions of dollars in investments in East Coast nursing homes and other properties.

"My goodness ... that is a surprise," said investor Barbara Moller, a retired Petaluma high school teacher alerted by phone Tuesday of Baccala's arrest. "We figured (the case) had disappeared and we would be resentful for the rest of our lives."

Moller and her husband Charles said they lost "hundreds of thousands" to Baccala.

"It's bittersweet," said Petaluma resident Lou Neve, who said his family lost $1 million to Baccala. "It's not going to bring the money back."

Many investors were elderly residents and longtime friends who recommended Baccala to each other.

The complaints led investigators from the District Attorney's and state Attorney General's offices to begin a probe of Baccala, his wife Karen Baccala and his business, Baccala Realty Inc., in January 2009.

Baccala raised millions of dollars from investors for nursing homes in North and South Carolina, a Nevada gas station and other properties, according to a 172-count felony complaint.

Baccala promised more than 12 percent annual returns for investments in projects, which were supposed to be secured by a first or second deed of trust on the property, Ravitch said. However the funds raised were not used as Baccala promised and none of the deeds of trust were recorded, Ravitch said.

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