South Bay businessman Ron Battistella was sentenced on Friday to five years in state prison. Battistella is convicted of operating a Ponzi scheme based out of a San Jose car dealership, formerly knows as Steven’s Creek Auto Mall.
For nearly two and a half years, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has exposed Battistella and his business practices. The reports brought attention to millions of dollars in unpaid debt to investors, the state of California and the IRS.
The investment scheme was designed to purchase vehicles for Battistella’s show room. Investors received pink slips for the vehicles as collateral for the investments.
The prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office, Vishal Bathija, found the pink slips were fraudulent. Investors lost more than $1.3 million.
"He’s been caught, he’s been convicted,” said Bathija. “He’s going to spend a significant amount of time in state prison.”
“He was crying through most of the sentencing and I don’t think he was crying for himself," said Dennis Lempert, Ron Battistella's Defense Attorney. "I think it was honest and sincere remorse for what had happened.”
The car dealer and former member of Santa Clara County Sheriff's Advisory Board will receive a credit for the eight months served in county jail.
Victims of Battistella’s investment scheme addressed the court, asking Judge Nishigaya to send him to prison for more than just five years.
“He is a wolf in sheep’s clothes,” said Yw Zhang, who invested $100,000 in Battistella’s auto scheme. The court could have sentenced Battistella to up to 13 years.
In July, Battistella plead "no contest" to nine felony charges, meaning he accepted punishment as if guilty. Lempert, his attorney, estimates that Battistella will ultimately serve between 13 and 22 months in state prison.