Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ex-Capitals owner to plead guilty, lawyer says

   Deepal Wannakuwatte, the former owner of the defunct Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis, apparently has changed his mind and will plead guilty in an alleged Ponzi scheme.
   The Sacramento Bee reported today that Wannakuwatte, who pleaded not guilty to bank fraud and other charges last month, has a "change of plea" hearing scheduled for May 1 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
   The hearing probably will be postponed, but "it's anticipated he's going to plead guilty," Wannakuwatte's lawyer, Donald Heller, said without elaborating.
   Said prosecutor Michael Beckwith, an assistant U.S. attorney: "The evidence in the case is very strong. I think that's a lot of what's driving this."
   Wannakuwatte, a 63-year-old native of Sri Lanka, was arrested on Feb. 20 in Sacramento after allegedly defrauding investors of millions in his medical supply businesses.
   According to the FBI, investment brochures for Wannakuwatte's International Manufacturing Group Inc. and RelyAid said sales reached $110 million in 2012, mostly from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
   In reality, the FBI said, sales to the VA totaled just $25,000 a year. Agents said Wannakuwatte usually repaid investors with funds from new investors.
   Wannakuwatte would become the second Capitals owner in the past 3 1/2 years to plead guilty to one or more crimes. Lonnie Nielson admitted to grand theft related to his real estate business in the fall of 2010 and was released from prison last summer.
   The owner between Nielson and Wannakuwatte, Sacramento real estate developer Bob Cook, declared bankruptcy after the 2011 season.
   The Capitals announced on Feb. 4 that they were moving to Las Vegas after 28 years because Sacramento lacks a permanent tennis facility. Shortly after Wannakuwatte's arrest, however, WTT terminated the franchise.
   The league will begin its 39th season on July 6 with seven teams. 
   The Capitals were the longest-running franchise in WTT at 28 years and won a record six league titles, including four straight (1997-2000).

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