Near the eve of a trial and facing a potential prison trip if convicted, a onetime live-in fitness trainer for an ultra-wealthy Orange County couple pleaded guilty today to six criminal counts involving a $350,000 extortion plot over alleged sexual escapades.
In exchange for pleading guilty to two felonies and four misdemeanors, Michael Roberts, 49, accepted punishment from Superior Court Judge John Conley: a 180-day trip to jail, 100 hours of community service plus supervised probation for three years.
Jim Toledano--Roberts' co-defendant, a former chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party and a civil attorney--continues to maintain his innocence and faces trial in coming days in Conley's court.
The case stems from a bitter fallout involving Roberts and Priscilla Marconi and her husband Dick. Roberts spent a decade until 2005 as Priscilla's trainer before he was fired and ordered to move out of the couple's San Juan Capistrano guest house. They didn't like Roberts' ungrateful attitude while the trainer claimed Priscilla caused the breakup as a way to hide her heated sexual relationship with him from Dick, who was impotent, according to court records.
In the aftermath, Roberts made numerous, hostile telephone calls to Priscilla, who filed a restraining order and contacted law enforcement. Roberts hired Toledano as his lawyer and the duo sought $350,000 in damages for Priscilla allegedly spreading rumors that wrecked the trainer's other business: selling high-end plants to rich clients, according to court records.
The Marconi's viewed the negotiations as extortion and prosecutor Rebecca Olivieri used the couple's personal lawyer, Richard Roper, as her grand jury expert to win 2010 indictments in the case.
Roper told the grand jury he never heard of a civil lawyer proposing a financial settlement to end a dispute prior to the filing of a lawsuit, a ridiculous assertion that, at least partially, undermines the legitimacy of the case.
To Olivieri, the evidence shows that Toledano told Roper he wouldn't go to the news media to reveal scandalous details of the Marconi's sex life in exchange for the payoff.
Undercover Newport Beach police detectives arrested Roberts at a hotel parking lot in June 2008, when he accepted from Roper a Duffel bag containing $200,000 in cash, $150,000 cashiers check and a $10,000 check for Toledano.
Paul Anderson of City News Service reported this afternoon that Toledano lawyer Dave Swanson is hoping Conley will allow him to advise the future jury that Dick Marconi has a history of trying to resolve civil disputes by claiming he's the victim of extortion.
During the week of Roberts' arrest, the Republican power couple contributed the maximum allowable campaign contributions ($3,200) to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas even though it wasn't an election year.
Toledano, the son of a now-deceased, famous Washington, D.C. journalist who was close to President Richard M. Nixon, is free on bail.
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The Federal Election Commission found him guilty of illegally funneling $10,000 in 1996 to a Democratic congressional campaign candidate running against then-Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).