Michael Thomas Hamilton, the 49-year-old Sonoma resident indicted last November on 22 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, pleaded guilty Thursday, in federal district court in San Francisco, to two counts of wire fraud.
Hamilton was arrested last year after fraudulently collecting more than $1.6 million, between February 2011 and October 2013, from at least 20 investors in a Ponzi scheme that promised high rates of return from the sale of books on Amazon.com and other online platforms. Investors were told if they did not recover their initial investment by a given date, they would automatically earn interest of 10 percent. According to the FBI investigation that uncovered the scheme, Hamilton paid investors “royalties” from book sales to keep them happy and unsuspecting, but most of the money actually came from new or existing investors in a classic Ponzi, pyramid scenario.
Hamilton operated a modest book-selling business he called Small Leaf, from an address in the De Anza Moon Valley mobile home park off Fifth Street West. He solicited many of his investors through Craigslist, primarily in California, Oregon and Massachusetts, telling them Small Leaf generated more than $1 million in annual revenues.
In pleading guilty and avoiding conviction on the 20 other counts, Hamilton admitted he engaged in a scheme to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent representations regarding Small Leaf.
Hamilton is due to be sentenced on Sept. 4 and could receive up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the two counts, plus restitution and a fine of $250,000 on each count.
He is currently free on a $75,000 bond.
In other incidents reported recently to Valley law enforcement:
Friday, April 25:
8:37 a.m. – But you’re not my boss. A deputy responded to a call of a suspicious person in a tasting room at Ravenswood Winery in the 18700 block of Gehricke Road. Employees, who said they had never seen the woman before, reported she was acting bizarre, claiming to be the boss and ordering them around. The woman, who showed signs of being under the influence of some sort of intoxicant, gave the investigating deputy a false name, which didn’t help her cause. The 41-year-old Santa Rosa resident was arrested on charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance, giving false ID to a peace officer and a probation violation. She was given a ride to the county jail.
Saturday, April 26:
3:10 p.m. – The price of probation. While on patrol in the 18600 block of Sonoma Highway, a deputy recognized a pedestrian who was on probation with search and seizure terms. When the deputy pulled over to chat, he noticed that the man tried to ditch something, which turned out to be a plastic bag containing a glass pipe that contained shards of what the deputy surmised was methamphetamine. Jared Simonetti, 31, of El Verano, was arrested on charges of felony possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and a probation violation.
Monday, April 28:
11 a.m. – Wrong tags, loaded gun. While on patrol in the 200 block of Northside Avenue, a deputy came upon a car parked in the wrong direction. The driver said he was just dropping something off at a nearby residence. When the deputy asked for a license and registration, he noticed that the registration was a year old, but the vehicle was sporting 2014 tags. The man said an unnamed friend put the current tags on his plate. While eyeballing the car, the deputy noticed an empty holster inside and wondered if there was a gun that went with the holster. The man said the gun was in the trunk and opened it for the deputy. The gun was loaded and it was registered to the motorist. The 27-year-old Santa Rosa resident was cited for carrying a loaded gun in his vehicle and false registration.