An Orange County philanthropist’s former personal trainer pleaded guilty Monday to charges stemming from a $350,000 extortion plot that involved threats of revealing embarrassing personal information about the victim and her husband, owners of the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin.
Michael Earl Roberts, 49, of Corona del Mar, was immediately sentenced to six months in jail, ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and placed on three years of formal probation by Orange County Superior Court Judge John Conley.
The judge also ordered Roberts to stay away from his former employer, Priscilla “Bo” Marconi, and her husband, Dick Marconi, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivieri, who negotiated the plea deal with the defendant. Messages left with Roberts’ attorney, Mark Fredrick, were not immediately returned.
Co-defendant James Toledano, a 70-year-old attorney who has a Newport Beach law office, is still scheduled to go on trial, with jury selection expected to begin Thursday, Olivieri said. Toledano was indicted in April 2010 on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and extortion.
Roberts pleaded guilty to conspiracy and attempting to commit extortion, both felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts each of harassing phone calls and annoying phone calls.
Olivieri declined further comment on the plea deal because of Toledano’s pending trial.
In court today, Olivieri and Toledano’s attorney, David Swanson, argued various motions prior to the trial. Swanson wants to get into evidence what he claims is a pattern by the Marconis of threatening to seek extortion charges whenever they have disputes with business associates.
Swanson allegedd the Marconis met with prosecutors in a previous dispute to discuss, “What do we need to do to build an extortion case?”
Swanson told Conley, “It’s a common plan or scheme as a litigation strategy … It seems like something a jury should hear.”
Much of the evidence against Roberts and Toledano came from secretly recorded phone calls made at the direction of law enforcement by the Marconis’ attorney, Paul Roper.
Roberts worked as a personal trainer for Priscilla Marconi and her husband between 1995 and 2005, when he was fired, according to Olivieri.
Between August 2006 and June 2008, Roberts made dozens of calls to Priscilla Marconi and her friends saying he planned to sue her, and, in one instance, saying, “You better hang onto something, because it’s going to get bumpy,” Olivieri said.
Toledano is accused of representing Roberts in a May 2008 meeting with Roper when a demand was made for $350,000 in exchange for not releasing embarrassing information to various media, including a local magazine, two daily newspapers and a Los Angeles television station, according to Olivieri.
In a June 2008 meeting, Roberts received a duffel bag from Dick Marconi containing $200,000 in cash and a cashier’s check made out to the defendant for $150,000, as well as a check for $10,000 payable to Toledano, according to prosecutors.
— City News Service
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