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Gina Champion-Cain stole $372 million in huge Ponzi Scheme

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scales of justice

Gina Champion-Cain was born in 1964 and grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

She moved to San Diego in 1987 to attend law school at the University of San Diego.

Switching to guaranteed business, she graduated with an MBA and moved into property development, buying and reselling distressed properties.

After a spell working for a property firm, she struck out on her own, setting up American National Investments in 1997.

Her property development efforts led her into the restaurant business.

She set up the Patio chain of restaurants in San Diego and launched a clothing chain, Luv Surf Boutique.

What happened next?

Champion-Cain' had a reputation as a successful entrepreneur.

She came up with a scheme where she'd receive money from investors.

This cash would then be loaned to businesses looking for liquor licenses in California.

What she actually did was take money from investors and spend it on herself.

Champion-Cain and her co-conspirators used new investors' funds to pay off previous investors.

They also embezzled money to support her other businesses and lavish lifestyle.

They maintained the scheme by fabricating documents, forging signatures, and deceiving investors through fake email accounts.

$372 million stolen

Between 2012 and 2019, it is estimated that she took in at least $372m from investors.

By 2019, however, the government had started investigating her business.

She promised that the funds would be held in an escrow account to be protected.

In reality, no loans were made, and she diverted the set money to prop up her failing business empire, fund her lavish lifestyle (she spent $800,000 on sports tickets alone) and repay earlier investors.

Champion-Cain made regular payments to some of her investors to give an illusion of legitimacy to her investment program, thereby attracting more victims.

She also stole tens of millions of dollars of investor funds to support her failing restaurant and retail businesses.

She also used the money to fund her personal expenses, including high salaries, sports event box seats, luxury vehicles and jewelry.

As the authorities began to circle, she attempted to obstruct federal investigations starting in July 2019.

She instructed her employees to destroy emails, tamper with electronic records, alter accounting records to conceal the misuse of investor funds, and shred paper records.

She even tried to solicit a $150 million investment to cover up her scheme, but investigators recovered substantial evidence despite these efforts​​.

The scheme was shut down later that year.

Champion-Cain later pleaded guilty to conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice.

She was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2021.

Crispin Torres, her chief financial officer, got four years.

U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns said the scheme was marked by “tremendous callousness” and and “extreme avarice."

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said the scheme had caused significant damage to hundreds of victims.

He added they had lost hundreds of millions while Champion-Cain lived a life of luxury.

Is the case still going on?

Yes, in April 2023, the San Diego Union Tribune reported hundreds of victims of the scam are set to get their money back.

It is thought more than 90 percent of the money will be recovered.

U.S District Court Judge Larry Burns approved the initial distribution of $21 million from a court-appointed receivership.

Nearly four years has been liquidating the dozens of assets and bank accounts held by Champion-Cain’s companies.

This means the investors could get their money back after the scam.

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