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, according to officials in the Sonoma County District Attorney's office.

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.

Through his business, Baccala Realty, Inc., Baccala raised millions of dollars from investors for East Coast nursing homes and a Colusa County mushroom farm, officials said.

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

Baccala's debts mounted after he lost about $8 million of investors' money in the stock market between 2003 and 2008. He began promising new investors annual returns of up to 27.5 percent to cover interest payments to earlier investors, Ravitch said.

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