Payback time: Baldi pleads guilty to embezzlement charges
James Baldi, the former restaurateur and accountant who abruptly skipped town three years ago and lived under an assumed name in San Francisco before being arrested in early January, has pleaded guilty to embezzling approximately $200,000 from his former bookkeeping clients.
While the 49-year-old Baldi could face up to 80 years in prison and thousands in fines in an agreement with prosecutors that calls for him to plead guilty to four embezzling charges in the county and a fifth in the city, at his June 11 court appearance in Albemarle County Circuit Court, Judge Cheryl Higgins suggested that Baldi may also be required to repay his victims as part of his sentence.
"He's anxious to make restitution and set things right," says Baldi's attorney, Scott Goodman, reached by phone after the hearing. "He's not trying to avoid punishment, and he knows there will be some incarceration. But when he gets out he plans to pay people back."
As first reported in the Hook, Baldi's life on the lam sounds like something out of a movie.
Living under the assumed name Dario DiSovana and working at a well-regarded Italian restaurant called Pachino Trattoria and Pizzeria on the outskirts of San Francisco's Chinatown before his arrest, sources who encountered Baldi there say he spoke with an Italian accent and claimed he was of Italian and Vietnamese descent.
What's more, sources told the Hook that he was living with Kristian Throckmorton, the now 27-year-old woman who originally fled with Baldi, and who reportedly was using the name Eliana DiSovana and working as a manager of a nearby restaurant. Sources say Baldi and Throckmorton claimed they were married and came from Canada.
Per court records, Baldi's biggest victim locally appears to be Wood Grill Buffet, to which he owes $155,000, and then carpet- and rug-cleaning franchise Duraclean, to which he owes $23,700. Sentencing is scheduled for August.
Hook legal analyst David Heilberg suggests that Judge Higgins may choose to suspend some portion of Baldi's sentence for the victims' sakes, given that Baldi's ability to earn sufficient money for restitution is significantly hindered while he's behind bars.
Once he's out, however, "The court has quite a bit of leverage and authority to create a payment arrangement," says Heilberg, noting that the restitution plan "could include making installment payments to the victims or taking a percentage of anything he makes."
And unlike civil debts, which can be discharged through a bankruptcy filing, Heilberg says that payment of court-ordered restitution is enforced by threat of reinstating a suspended jail sentence or imposing additional fines.