Trial bungled; ‘Sweetheart Swindler’ withdraws guilty plea; New trial in December | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Trial bungled; ‘Sweetheart Swindler’ withdraws guilty plea; New trial in December

by Merrie Leininger

Anthony Brusca lost money again as a judge’s ruling Tuesday put a dramatic turn in the “Sweetheart Swindler” case.

Citing misconduct by the district attorney’s office, Judge Michael Gibbons ruled a plea agreement was void. Attorneys for Margaret Loeo then withdrew her guilty plea.

A new trial was set for Dec. 15. In the meantime Brusca has to give back $10,000 he was given in the plea agreement.

Loeo’s attorneys said Tuesday the plea bargain was based on a felony guilty plea from Loeo who would also pay $10,000 restitution to Brusca. It was also agreed there would be no recommendation from Deputy District Attorney Alan Buttell on sentencing.

Loeo’s attorneys, Robert Bruce Lindsay and William Routsis, filed the motion Monday to withdraw the plea because a letter from a Douglas County Sheriff’s investigator violated the plea agreement. They said Sgt. Detective Tim Minister of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.

“Minister, as a member of the law enforcement, is a direct agent for the district attorney,” Routsis said. “He (Buttell) can’t stand like an ostrich with his head in the sand and say he doesn’t know about it. I don’t think I should even have to argue this is a breach.”

Buttell argued the cases Routsis cited in his argument did not apply to this motion.

“The defendant’s argument, while impassioned and full of superlatives, is not appropriate in this case,” he said.

However, Gibbons said he had no choice but to rule in favor of the defense. He said he was shocked when he read Minister’s letter.

“It is clear to the court there is a violation of the plea agreement. The district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office are aligned as one entity. I don’t think it was done intentionally, but it did happen,” Gibbons said.

“It is very unfortunate. I’ve never set aside a plea and in 13 years I have only seen it happen extremely infrequently. But the court has no other reasonable choice in the case.”

Accused of a “Sweetheart Swindle,” Loeo, 23, of Sacramento, is charged with obtaining money under false pretenses from 82-year-old Anthony Brusca of Stateline.

Brusca claimed Loeo and two co-defendants bilked him out of $250,000. The other two – Diane and Steve Yonko – pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after they returned $110,000 to the victim and agreed to pay another $25,000 to Brusca within two years.

The felony sentence is automatically doubled because the victim is more than 65 years of age. She pleaded guilty Aug. 25 in Douglas County District Court.

Gibbons ordered Brusca to return the $10,000 to the court clerk by the end of the week.

Routsis again argued for the bail to be reduced and the judge set it at $100,000, cash only.

Gibbons said the bail had to cover any possible restitution. The Division of Parole and Probation has asked for $96,908 in restitution.

Routsis continued to argue with Gibbons for a lower bail as Loeo asked, “Please, your honor?”

“You shouldn’t be punishing her before she’s had her day in court,” Routsis said. The judge refused their pleas.

Trial was set for Dec. 15.

Routsis said he will attempt to get a change of venue to move the case to Reno because of pre-trial publicity.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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