Who will try Jim Baldi on embezzlement charges?

Jim Baldi. Photo courtesy Albemarle County Police. Jim Baldi. Photo courtesy Albemarle County Police.

Last week, two and a half years after fleeing indictments, former Charlottesville restaurateur and accused embezzler Jim Baldi made his first appearance in local court, but the nature of the charges against him make it difficult to predict what the path forward looks like for the area’s most notorious bookkeeper.

Altogether, Baldi, who managed the finances for many local businesses before being accused of fraud in the summer of 2010, faces four separate embezzlement charges. He stands accused of siphoning money away from Downtown’s Cafe Cubano as well as three Albemarle businesses: Proffitt Management, WK Foods, and rug cleaning company Duraclean.

The crime novel-worthy details of Baldi’s life on the lam—a new name, a new home in the posh Dolores Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, a job as the manager of an Italian restaurant—generated a lot of local buzz in the wake of his January 4 arrest in California. But now that his extradition has landed him in the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail, those who lost the most are mostly mum. His former associates and alleged victims were unreachable or wouldn’t comment on his unceremonious return, including his one-time Bel Rio co-owners Gareth Weldon and David Simpson.

It could be they want to put the past behind them—the same reason, perhaps, that the alleged victims in the Charlottesville and Albemarle cases against Baldi number only four. Local defense attorney Andrew Sneathern, who has no connection to the case, said that while we can’t know the details at this point, prosecutors might not have been able to bring all the charges they wanted to.

“There may be witnesses [or] victims that do not wish to go forward in what may be an exhausting and time-consuming process,” Sneathern said in an e-mail. There are other explanations, he said. Often, the Commonwealth’s primary goal in money crimes is restitution for victims, and they may not need a conviction for every count to win it.

Complicating things is the fact that Baldi’s alleged crimes straddle the city-county line —hence the two sets of charges. That’s not uncommon here with pattern-of-behavior crimes, said Dean L’Hospital, Sneathern’s law partner, and it may be bad news for Baldi, because by the time he ends up before judge number two, he could have a prior conviction. “When you have related charges that are essentially unbundled because of jurisdictional issues, you have people potentially looking at much harsher sentences,” said L’Hospital.

But facing charges in multiple jurisdictions could potentially work to Baldi’s
benefit, he said. If the defendant is cooperative, it’s not unusual to see two sets of prosecutors agree to conduct a joint sentencing—and a reduction in the recommended sentence. That could be significant in a case like this, considering embezzlement is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

But for now, Baldi’s time —when he’s not bedding down at the jail—will be spent seesawing back and forth between two courts where he has a lot on the line.

“There’s no guarantee that cases will be resolved jointly, however, and the prosecution is certainly not under any obligation to entertain any suggestion of a joint resolution,” said L’Hospital.