Still insisting he was "blindsided" and pressured by prosecutors and his own attorney to plead guilty, Anthony Vassallo was ushered out of a Sacramento courtroom Friday by deputy U.S. marshals to serve a 16-year sentence in federal prison for running a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of millions of dollars.
Vassallo, who ranks with the region's premier fraudsters, pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Feb. 1. He then tried to withdraw his plea, claiming his residency in the Butte County jail made it impossible for him to assist in trial preparation.
When that didn't work, he claimed government prosecutors and agents and defense attorney Mark Reichel ganged up on him to extract a guilty plea to a crime he didn't commit.
U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr., who branded Vassallo a "liar" at Friday's hearing, wasn't buying that either. The judge had already declared in a court order that Vassallo had no credibility.
The 34-year-old Vassallo, who lived in Folsom before he was jailed, robbed investors of more than $44.8 million and their peace of mind through the use of a classic Ponzi scheme. He and co-conspirator Kenneth Kenitzer raked in more than $80 million from more than 300 investors in less than three years. True to the age-old Ponzi tradition of robbing Peter to pay Paul, he paid back millions to investors to give them a false sense of security and keep the scheme afloat.
Burrell set a hearing for Aug. 23 to determine the amount of restitution Vassallo will be ordered to pay.