How San Diego Was Suckered into Gina Champion-Cain’s Ponzi Scheme

by on January 25, 2022 · 8 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

Fraud by Former Owner of Surf Rider Pizza, Which Started in Ocean Beach, Makes National News

By Chris Pomorski / Bloomberg Business / January 21, 2022

In late 2012, Kim Peterson, a San Diego real estate developer and lawyer, got a call from a friend and colleague named Gina Champion-Cain. Peterson was in his 60s; in 1982 he left behind a high-profile criminal defense practice in Chicago to build shopping centers, pharmacies, and luxury homes. With his wife, Laurie, he lived in a stylish Mediterranean villa with views of the Pacific and traveled on his own plane.

In business circles, Peterson was known for probity and sound judgment. Through mutual acquaintances, he’d met Champion-Cain, roughly 15 years his junior, around 2005. They became close, playing golf at the exclusive Rancho Santa Fe country club where they were members and dining together with their spouses. Now she had an investment opportunity to tell him about.

Champion-Cain owned a real estate company, American National Investments Inc., and had recently bought her first restaurant. She was learning about liquor license regulations. When a license is transferred from one owner to another, she told Peterson, California law requires that the buyer and seller apply for approval to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Within 30 days of applying, the parties are obliged to open an escrow account, into which the buyer must deposit the purchase price of the license. California liquor licenses can be more than $100,000. Many buyers, Champion-Cain said, are caught off guard by quickly having to come up with so much cash. She told Peterson that she’d recently met with a liquor license attorney who wished that his clients could get financing to cover their deposits while they waited for approval.

Here was the opportunity. By collecting money from investors, including wealthy acquaintances and friends, Champion-Cain had created a fund to provide short-term, high-interest loans to liquor license applicants. When, upon approval of a transfer, the buyer provided the cash for the purchase and the escrow closed, the loan principal and interest flowed back to the fund. Returns varied depending on a loan’s duration but could hit 25%. The liquor license attorney, Champion-Cain said, had a steady supply of worthy applicants, and Chicago Title, one of the largest title insurance providers in the U.S., was overseeing the escrow accounts. (Chicago Title has headquarters in Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Fla.)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie January 25, 2022 at 10:47 am

Gina was in the news today, Tuesday:

“Former San Diego restaurateur Gina Champion-Cain, speaking under oath from prison, said she kept hidden from everyone but her own employees that she was operating a scheme lending fake censes. That included Title, which has been sued by hundreds of victims who claim the escrow company was com-plicit in orchestrating the $400 million fraud.” SD U-T page A1


Chris January 25, 2022 at 11:08 am

I wonder of her own employees who were aware of her scheme face the possibility of criminal charges?


Frank Gormlie January 25, 2022 at 3:04 pm

San Diego is no stranger to ponzi schemes. The one that stands out was by J. David “Jerry” Dominelli, whose elaborate Ponzi scheme shook San Diego society to its core in the 1980s and brought down a mayor. He died in 2009.


Paul Webb January 25, 2022 at 6:11 pm

And a similarity between the two is that both were fronted by attractive, well-connected San Diego women. In the case of J. David, it was Nancy Hoover Hunter, a member of the San Diego iconic Fletcher family.

I vividly remember having breakfast one morning at a cafe in Mission Hills, when the man next to me noticed I was looking at the stock market listings in the LA Times. He asked me if I was interested in investing, which I was in a small way. He told me about an incredible investment opportunity he had run into – 10% per month returns.

Before I ran out of the restaurant to get away from him, he handed me his business card. He was with the firm J. David & Co,

If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.


Frank Gormlie January 25, 2022 at 7:20 pm

Also will never forget former mayor Roger Hedgcock’s role, although ultimately he was legally exonerated.


Frank J January 26, 2022 at 4:15 am

Ah, the J David memories. Except for Nancy Hoover Hunter and ‘attractive’ in the same sentence! ?


Geoff Page January 26, 2022 at 1:57 pm
Mark Ainsworth January 27, 2022 at 4:16 pm

Everyday she was
prayers to the hubby, who I am sure was an innocent party, and knew nothing,


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