The man who admitted masterminding one of Sacramento's biggest Ponzi schemes in years is trying to withdraw his guilty plea.
The lawyer for Anthony Vassallo says his client pleaded guilty only because he couldn't prepare a defense while stuck in an Oroville jail. If he can get the guilty plea scratched, Vassallo will then ask to be released on bail, said attorney Mark Reichel.
"If he's out on bail, then he can prepare for trial," Reichel said today.
Federal officials are fighting Vassallo's efforts to cancel his plea. Prosecutor Jean Hobler, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in court papers that Vassallo's motion "is without any legal or factual basis."
Facing up to 20 years in prison, Vassallo was supposed to be sentenced today in U.S. District Court. Instead, a hearing is set for June 14 on his motion to rescind the guilty plea.
In February, Vassallo admitted running a Ponzi scheme that duped investors out of $45 million.
He pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in connection with his Folsom money-management firm, Equity Investment Management and Trading Inc., which was shut down by authorities in early 2009. He was arrested a few weeks later.
Vassallo was out on bail until a year ago, when prosecutors said he violated the terms of his release by making contact with one of his customers.
In court papers, Vassallo admitted making contact with investor Ethan Conrad, a prominent Sacramento real estate executive, but said he was trying to help Conrad recover his funds.
Since then, Vassallo has been locked up at the Butte County Jail in Oroville. Reichel said the jail lacks adequate phone facilities or places to store Vassallo's legal materials.
"He was forced to enter the (guilty) plea because he had no other alternative," Reichel said in court papers filed last week.
Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.