Gina Champion-Cain, Former Owner of OB’s Surf Rider Pizza, Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Giant Ponzi Scheme

by on April 1, 2021 · 14 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Gina Champion-Cain, the former owner of the Surf Rider Pizza chain, a host of “patio restaurants”, vacation rentals and clothing businesses, was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison for operating almost a $400 million Ponzi scheme, with hundreds of victims.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said Champion-Cain deserved the maximum, calling her crimes a “tremendous fraud” and a “betrayal,” and likely the biggest fraud committed in the history of the federal court’s Southern District of California.

Her Ocean Beach Surf Rider Pizza had to close – and now the building has a whole different business. Champion-Cain was not the original owner of Surf Rider Pizza, having purchased the small chain from other owners.

Judge Burns said Champion-Cain could have been charged with many more criminal counts — and faced a much longer prison term — for a scheme that so far has resulted in net losses of more than $180 million. Her attorney had asked the judge to allow Champion-Cain to remain free until she received her Covid vaccination. Burns refused. She was led out of the courtroom with handcuffs and taken directly into custody.

See Lori Weisberg and Greg Moran’s piece at the San Diego Union-Tribune from today’s paper.

It was back in September 2019 that San Diego’s Cohn Restaurant Group took over Surf Rider Pizza in Ocean Beach – and La Mesa- .

The Cohns – David and Lesley Cohn of the Cohn Restaurant Group (CRG) – also took over running The Patio on Lamont in Pacific Beach,  Saska’s in Mission Beach and the Surf Riders – as mentioned – as those eateries will placed “under the operational guidance” of the Cohns beginning September 30, 2019.

Other restaurants owned by Champion-Cain such as Fireside by the Patio in Liberty Station and The Patio on Goldfinch in Mission Hills were not taken over by the Cohn group and closed by the end of September, 2019. Champion-Cain also owned Patio Express locations in Mission Hills and Mission Beach; Bao Beach in Mission Beach; and Swell Coffee locations in Mission Beach and Del Mar.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Webb April 1, 2021 at 4:19 pm

Hated to see Surfrider go – I liked their pizza. But Pizzeria Luigi coming to OB is a great step up!


Frank Gormlie April 1, 2021 at 5:31 pm

It was good! We used to have OB Rag meetings with half a dozen of their pizzas. Surf Rider had an ad with us for a while. I don’t know what happened to the two women who started it.


james April 2, 2021 at 9:08 am

Was her husband in on it?

Total scammer she ripped off a lot of people.


retired botanist April 2, 2021 at 5:48 pm

Just UGH. Glad I never went there.No other comment, other than WTF is wrong with people? So humanity-disappointing. And yeah, why should she get some sort of vax-go-free card when hundreds of others are out there, forced to work, unvaccinated, delivering pizzas? Fair call, Burns.


Stu April 3, 2021 at 11:20 am

NO sympathy for the woman She knew what she was doing and it was all for her.
It was an easy place to get a slice when I was doing dog walks


Paul Webb April 4, 2021 at 4:25 pm

Just a couple of thoughts about this.
First, there were people who made money off of this – the early investors. Some of that money should be clawed back to compensate the later investors who never saw a dime of returns and lost their entire investment.
Second, like the J. David Dominelli ponzi scheme, I have to believe that she had partners who were knew what was going on. That kind of money doesn’t just float through one person, even at a small company. I am waiting for more indictments.
Third, I cannot believe that people still get drawn into these things. Years ago, I was having breakfast at a cafe in Mission Hills and the guy sitting next to me at the counter saw me reading the stock listings in the business section of the LA Times. He asked me if I was interested in investing and I replied that I was. He told me that he could help me earn 12% per month safely and with high liquidity. Now this was a time when interest rates were much higher than they are now, but even then 12% per month was a ridiculously high rate of return, over 60% per year. You just can’t earn 60% in a 10% world. I kept his card for a long time to remind myself that money just doesn’t fall from the sky. His company? J. David Dominelli.
People who get greedy don’t deserve to be fleeced, but, c’mon. If it sounds to good to be true…


triggerfinger April 5, 2021 at 11:49 pm

I haven’t read that.

A Ponzi scheme can be maintained by keeping early investors happy by paying them dividends, funded by new investors. And then fudge the paperwork and don’t let anyone cash out… because their original investment no longer exists.


Mark "Stew" Stewart April 5, 2021 at 2:32 pm

Met her a few times over the years and she was:
Extremely Charming
Pretty (long brown hair, snow white teeth,)
Dressed very well
So, you want to bet a donut, most of the people who lost money where:
very wealthy, awkward middle-age/older men, who thought maybe, just maybe, there might be a chance of a relationship, in addition to those fabolous returns!
Women don’t usually fall that stuff, just my observation.


triggerfinger April 5, 2021 at 11:43 pm

Kudos on your sexist comments.

So women are only to be trusted with an investment when there’s possible sex involved?
And generalizing about women being smarter investors… the actual woman in this article (not your invented stereotype) is now sharing a prison cell with a stainless toilet.


triggerfinger April 6, 2021 at 10:43 am

My apologies! My momma told me this would happen when I ASSuME.


Frank Gormlie April 6, 2021 at 9:02 am

You’re not projecting are you?


triggerfinger April 6, 2021 at 9:51 am

My bad, I forgot sexism (and also racism) is ok depending on which direction it’s aimed.


Frank Gormlie April 6, 2021 at 10:02 am

Hey, my comment “You’re not projecting are you?” is directed at the previous comment, not yours. But because your comment was up first, mine appears to be referring to yours – not so, joe! Sorry for the cornfusion.


Richard April 5, 2021 at 7:05 pm

It should be emphasized Federal prison. She will be not only a minority, but she will be lunch for those women that will predatorize her to the degree it will be the equivalent of hell itself.

There is a famous statement that it would been better for someone to have never been born and this will be her experience deserving myself for what she did to those that she lied to and exploited.

She’s experiencing that hell even as I share this message guaranteed!


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