Pay back: Former Bel Rio owner Jim Baldi sentenced for embezzling

Convicted embezzler James K. Baldi is currently serving his sentence at the Cold Springs Correctional Unit in Greenville and could face additional prison time for a new federal charge. Convicted embezzler James K. Baldi is currently serving his sentence at the Cold Springs Correctional Unit in Greenville and could face additional prison time for a new federal charge.

The former Charlottesville restaurateur and accountant who duped clients out of more than $200,000, then went on the run, is likely to remain behind bars for less than three years, a judge ruled in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Thursday, December 5.

Fifty-year-old James Kirk Baldi told Judge Edward Hogshire that shame led him to flee back in July 2010, and that he’d always planned to return to Charlottesville with enough money to pay back his victims.

“I was thinking that the only way to make it right is to earn the money back,” said Baldi, who pleaded guilty to five felony charges back in June, five months after his January 4 arrest in San Francisco. When he’s released, Baldi testified, he hopes to return there, where his girlfriend is waiting for him. He believes that, once released, it will take him four years to repay his victims.

Those victims include the Wood Grill Buffet, from which he stole more than $179,000, Duraclean, whom he cleaned out for more than $1,600, and Tony Jorge, owner of Café Cubano on the Downtown Mall, from whom Baldi stole more than $19,000.

Once known for his dapper suits, Baldi, who goes by “Jim” and holds a Ph.D. in foreign affairs from UVA, appeared in court shackled and handcuffed in a blue jailhouse jumpsuit and black-rimmed glasses as he testified about his crime and subsequent life on the lam.

“I’m embarrassed by what I did, and I should not have done it,” Baldi told the court, describing how he began stealing money from clients as Bel Rio, the Belmont restaurant he co-owned with Gareth Weldon, hit hard times after noise complaints led the city to enact a new ordinance that effectively ended late-night  musical acts in that location.

“I kept thinking I could turn it around,” he said of his business, noting that he stole in small increments, convincing himself he would pay it back before anyone noticed.

As law enforcement closed in, Weldon was awarded nearly $50,000 in a civil suit against his one-time business partner. Baldi said he became overwhelmed.

“Everything hit at once,” he said. “It was more than I could imagine.”

The night before he fled, he testified, he called his then-teenaged children, thinking he would only be away for a few months. Under questioning from Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman, he revealed that he was able to get falsified documents under the name Dario DiSovano through his contacts with undocumented workers in the restaurant world and that he’d told no one where he was going or how long he’d be gone.

With his girlfriend, now-29-year-old former Bel Rio bartender Kristian Throckmorton,  joining him on the road, Baldi described working any job he could find as the pair made their way cross country. Once in San Francisco, he said, he spent the first year working as a dishwasher before finding more lucrative work at San Francisco eatery Pachino Trattoria, where he quickly moved up to manager. He testified he earned as much as $400 per day in tips and hourly wages, a sum that formed the basis for his estimate that he could pay $5,000 a month to his victims once released.

Chapman, however, questioned Baldi’s commitment and pointed out that at the time of his January arrest, he had spent his savings— $40,000— paying the upcoming year’s rent in cash instead of saving for his victims. Baldi claimed he had saved an additional $4,000 for his victims, and that prior to his arrest, he had planned to spend 2013 saving up more.

Reached after the court date, Chapman again expressed doubt that Baldi had the ability to follow through.

“You want victims to be repaid as soon as possible,” Chapman said. “But as well meaning as Mr. Baldi might have been, the odds of him being able to stick to the aggressive payment schedule are so small, one could look at it as just words to the court.”

Any savings plan—and his victims—will have to wait. In addition to ordering Baldi to pay full restitution, Judge Hogshire sentenced him to 33 years in prison with all but 43 months suspended. With the 11 months he’s already served and a “good behavior” rule that allows for early release after 85 percent of a sentence is served, Baldi could be free by March 2016. But that freedom could be even further off if a federal investigation into Baldi’s criminal activity, announced in court by Baldi’s attorney Scott Goodman, leads to additional charges.

Chapman called the sentence “appropriate.”

“The reality,” he said, “is he committed a massive embezzlement.”




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