A prominent San Jose businessman and former car dealer has resigned his position as an executive board member of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Advisory Board after a series of NBC Bay Area investigations exposing many of his financial problems.
The resignation-under-fire follows pressure from Sheriff Laurie Smith after the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed how Ron Battistella, who used to own Stevens Creek Auto Mall and a Hummer dealership in Los Gatos, owes millions of dollars to Bay Area investors, the state of California and the federal government.
According to bankruptcy filings obtained by the Investigative Unit, Battistella owes the IRS $604,682 from unpaid payroll taxes dating back to 1993. His list of creditors includes the state of California’s Board of Equalization for $2.8 million dollars in unpaid sales taxes from 2006 to2008. And he owes Bay Area investors $1.9 million dollars from a now-defunct used car dealership in San Jose.
After learning about Battistella's financial troubles from NBC Bay Area, Sheriff Laurie Smith told Chief Investigative Reporter Tony Kovaleski recently that she would recommend his removal from the advisory board.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit learned following our reports in November and public pressure from Sheriff Smith Battistella submitted his resignation to the board.
“To do what he has done to bring the Sheriff's Advisory Board out front like this, is very disappointing," said Steve Hunt, vice president of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board. “If you have someone that has tainted or has been given a bad name or even brings negative publicity to the board, it is not good."
Hunt added: "And I think Ron said, 'Hey, because of what was going on, because of the board, I am going to step down.'"
The Sheriff’s Advisory Board is non-profit organization of prominent Bay Area Business leaders working to raise money and support for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department. Money raised by the Adisory Board has among other things helped to replace all of the Sheriff’s dive equipment, the County’s only dive team.
The resignation is only the latest chapter in Battistella's story. Several of the victims Kovaleski interviewed who invested in Battistella’s now-defunct used car dealership say they arel upset and still hoping to recover, the $1.9 million they say he owes them. They invested in the company and said he never fully paid what they were owed. Now, multiple sources have said they were contacted by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, where prosecutors interviewed them about their investments with Battistella.
“They’ve been conned,” said former Battistella employee Harry Osborne, who is aware of the investors' frustrations.
“Do you think Mr. Battistella is aware of what he is doing to all these people?” Kovaleski asked.
“Absolutely," Osborne said.
“Where did the money go?” Kovaleski continued.
“Good question," Osborne said.
According the federal bankruptcy records, 19 Bay Area investors are out a total of nearly $2 million in what was presented to them as a “guaranteed investment” where
Battistella used vehicle pink slips to secure their trust as a form of collateral.
In recent months, many of the investors brought their stories to the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit.
During a studio interview, Kovaleski asked a group of six investors: "How many of you believe you were the victim of a crime?"
All nine raised their hands.
“The money is gone and so are the cars,” said Joe De Santo. “Now if that’s not fraud or criminal, I don’t know what is.”
The Department of Motor Vehicles has confirmed the agency has reviewed Battistella’s businesses and practices and turned its file over to the Santa Clara County District Attorney for review.
Investors and their legal representatives recently spotted Battistella sitting courtside at a series of Golden State Warriors games in Oakland.
They questioned in the shadow of a $10.5 million-bankruptcy filing how Battistella could sit in some of the Warrior’s most expensive seats.
They also wanted to know what happened to their $1.9 million in investments.
“I could have stayed home today,” said a tearful Joe De Santo during an interview at the NBC Bay Area studios. “But, I want to do my part to make sure he is brought to justice. He doesn’t deserve to be out on the streets.”
Kovaleski caught up with Battistella at the end of one such game outside the Oracle Arena in Oakland. Kovaleski began asking questions his former investors wanted answered, such as how he could afford the courtside seats when they were still owed millions. Battistella did not answer, but unidentified people in his group said the tickets belonged to them.
Kovaleski asked Battistella, “What do you say to the people who want to know where thir money is?”
Battistella did not answer any of the questions.
Instead, he got into an SUV with his friends and drove off.
Click on the links below to see the previous investigations:
If you have a tip for the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-996-8477.