Court Battles

Woman behind $400M scam sentenced to 15 years in prison

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A longtime San Diego business and real estate figure on Wednesday was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a massive scheme that defrauded investors out of nearly $400 million. 

Gina Champion-Cain previously admitted to obtaining more than $350 million from investors as part of a fake liquor license loan-funding program, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. 

Prosecutors in the case argued that Champion-Cain along with co-conspirators instead used funds from investors to “support her other businesses and her lifestyle.” 

Court records indicated that the woman was able to maintain the scheme and hide it from investors by forging documents and signatures, and “telling investors lies through fake email accounts so that when investors attempted to double-check on their investments with third parties, they were often really communicating with the defendant or her employees,” according to Wednesday’s press release. 

Upon learning that she was being investigated by federal agencies in 2019, Champion-Cain reportedly instructed her employees to destroy communications and alter accounting records in an attempt to hide the scheme, though the attorney’s office noted Wednesday that investigators “were able to recover a significant volume of the evidence Champion-Cain attempted to destroy.” 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Galvin outside the downtown San Diego courthouse on Wednesday said that the scheme impacted nearly 500 victims, according to NBC affiliate WTVJ

Champion-Cain in July of last year pleaded guilty to charges of securities fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, according to the attorney’s office. 

Wednesday’s press release noted that when issuing the 15-year sentence, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns told Champion-Cain that she demonstrated “tremendous callousness” and “extreme avarice” in committing a “monumental crime.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a statement following the sentencing that the judge’s decision “is a fitting sentence for a defendant who caused significant harm to hundreds of victims.” 

“This Ponzi scheme cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars while the defendant lived in luxury,” he added. “We will continue our aggressive efforts to prosecute those who swindle, deceive and bring financial devastation to victims.”

Prosecutors after the sentencing said the case may not yet be over, as Champion-Cain as part of her plea agreement “has expressed a desire to provide substantial assistance to the government in the investigation and prosecution of others.” 

“If she gives us information that helps lead to the indictment or charges against others, that may be grounds for us to come back and make a motion to the judge such that he brings Ms. Champion-Cain in and gives her credit for that, such that her sentence is marginally reduced,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Arnzen told reporters after the hearing.

Tags California Conspiracy Department of Justice NBC Obstruction of justice Ponzi scheme San Diego Securities fraud

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