By PHILLIP BANTZ
The charismatic convicted felon who conned a pair of Chesterfield business owners while posing as a U.S. marshal was sent to prison Thursday.
Wearing a charcoal blazer and blue jeans, a shackled John P. Baldasaro, 46, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to two felony-level counts of theft by deception. He’d vowed months earlier to take the case to trial and represent himself.
Judge John P. Arnold accepted the deal Baldasaro and his attorney, Michael D. Hulser of Acworth, reached with prosecutors and handed down two concurrent sentences of six to 12 years in N.H. State Prison.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dismissed two counts of kidnapping and one count of robbery.
If Baldasaro had gone to trial and was convicted on all five counts, he could have faced 60 years in prison, Hulser said after the hearing.
Hulser said he has also negotiated a plea deal for Baldasaro in Maine, where he is accused of stealing a vehicle from a dealership and duping a family out of $7,000 in a bogus investment scheme.
The Maine negotiation calls for a shorter sentence than the N.H. State Prison sentence and will be served concurrently with the New Hampshire sentence, he said.
Meanwhile, Baldasaro faces a federal parole violation charge in Vermont that could keep him in prison for another 12 years. By pleading guilty to the theft charges, Baldasaro effectively admitted to violating parole.
“The Vermont Parole Board will not say what they’re going to do,” Hulser said.
The parole violation stems from a conviction for kidnapping and robbery in White River Junction, Vt. Baldasaro spent 12 years in federal prison, where he married his wife, Vanessa, who works at a law firm in Boston. He was released in September 2008.
Hulser said he hasn’t heard from authorities in Massachusetts, where Baldasaro is accused of impersonating a federal agent and robbing a man at gunpoint. He also hasn’t received word from the federal authorities who are building an impersonation case against Baldasaro.
In Chesterfield, Baldasaro conned Fayyaz Awan, owner of Khyber Convenience Store, and Paul Saba, owner of Big Deal, out of more than $10,860 on May 11, according to court documents.
Baldasaro flashed what appeared to be a holstered gun and U.S. Marshals badge, told Awan and Saba he was investigating a counterfeit cash operation, and took money from both stores before emptying Awan’s bank account, prosecutors said.
Baldasaro told Awan and Saba the money he took was counterfeit, police said. He acted like he was scanning the bills with a laptop computer to determine whether they were legitimate, Saba said in an interview shortly after the incident.
Chesterfield police spent dozens of hours investigating the scheme alongside the U.S. Marshals Office, and Chief Lester C. Fairbanks said it was gratifying to see the case come full circle.
“It’s just nice to see everything fall into place,” he said. “None of us would have gotten here without the U.S. Marshals. That was just a huge stroke of luck that he picked the wrong agency to mess with.”
During the plea and sentencing hearing, Baldasaro spoke only to answer the judge or confer with Hulser. But he was outspoken during a jailhouse interview with The Sentinel in June, when he said he wanted to represent himself during trial and take on Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed.
“John speaks spontaneously very often,” Hulser said outside the courtroom. “I think he would like to retract those statements upon reflection.”
Baldasaro also made “very incriminating” statements to detectives after he was arrested at a Manhattan hotel several days after the Chesterfield incident, Hulser said.
Hulser said he would have tried to prevent jurors from hearing those statements if he was unable to negotiate a plea deal with Heed and Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Keith W. Clouatre.
If the case had gone to trial, Hulser planned to argue that Awan and Saba were acquainted with Baldasaro before he stole from them. He said they owed Baldasaro money, but would not disclose the nature of the debt.
Heed dismissed Hulser’s theory as “baseless” and said Awan and Saba were on board with the plea negotiation, which saved taxpayers the expense of a trial.
“We also don’t want New Hampshire taxpayers to pay for his whole incarceration,” he said. “He has a lot of sentences he can serve” in other states.