San Diego businesswoman sentenced to jail for ponzi scheme
SAN DIEGO, CA – A San Diego businesswoman who orchestrated a nearly $ 400 million Ponzi scheme in which she took investor funds for liquor license loans and channeled money into his businesses and for personal purchases, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison.
Gina Champion-Cain, 57, led what prosecutors called in court documents “the greatest known Ponzi scheme” in the history of the Southern District of California, which encompasses the counties of San Diego and the Empire.
She was immediately taken into police custody after the sentence was imposed. U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has denied a defense request to delay her surrender date so she can get her COVID-19 vaccine.
Prosecutors said Champion-Cain, founder and former CEO of American National Investments, told investors she had set up a loan program in which their funds would support high-interest loans for research companies. liquor license. She claimed the money would be placed in an escrow account and could only be distributed to investors.
In fact, she retained access to funds, which were funneled into her businesses or used to “support her other sometimes failing businesses” and “support her luxurious lifestyle,” according to the prosecution’s condemnation memorandum.
The scheme attracted “at least $ 372 million from over 490 investors,” not all of whom were wealthy, prosecutors said. They estimate the cumulative loss at around $ 180 million.
Champion-Cain also attempted to destroy evidence in order to hamper FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, including ordering his subordinates to delete emails and delete and edit accounting records, according to the charge.
She pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice charges stemming from the scheme, which dated back to 2012.
“I behaved in a horrible way and made terrible choices that didn’t fit my own value system that I grew up with. My actions have hurt so many people,” Champion-Cain said. during his sentencing hearing. “I feel so bad for my victims. They are people who trusted me or who trusted people who were involved with me.”
In a letter she wrote to a probation officer last year, she said, “My real intention for the loan program has always been that the people who participate in it make a lot of money. She wrote that she figured she would be able to pay back investors “with the massive growth of the empire I was trying to build.”
However, as the crime progressed, “I just wasn’t brave enough to put a stop to it. It was as if I was seduced and addicted to looks as I improve the lives of people. people, ”she wrote.
In court, she said her “number one goal will be to get as much money as possible.”
Burns, who is also chairing a parallel SEC civil case, said “there is nothing in this case that convinces me that there is a lot of money that can be clawed back. Much of it has disappeared. many of these people will never be healed if they get anything back. “
The judge said that despite the efforts now underway to recover the lost investments, “let’s face it. A lot of the money has been spent” and, in a way, “could only be qualified as ‘avarice, extreme greed on the part of the defendant “.
Burns said Champion-Cain’s conduct showed “tremendous callousness,” especially as some of the victims were people who considered her a friend and had known her for many years.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors recommended 130 months in detention, while his lawyers recommended 57 to 71 months, citing his cooperation with authorities in their investigation, among other factors.
Burns chose to impose a heavier sentence and repeatedly questioned the value of Champion-Cain’s cooperation in this matter. The judge said that, as far as he is aware, the case resulted in charges against two people, both of whom provided information about each other.
Former American National Investments chief financial officer Crispin Torres has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his part in the scheme and was sentenced earlier this month to four years in prison.
The judge also said he felt it was “counterintuitive” to credit Champion-Cain’s cooperation while acknowledging that it had hampered the investigation.
Deputy U.S. attorney Aaron Arnzen said Champion-Cain’s cooperation is underway and more defendants are expected to be charged.
By JASON KUROSU / City Information Service