Convicted Former San Diego Restaurateur Denied Reduction Of 15-Year Sentence For $400 Million Ponzi Scheme

March 4, 2024

Convicted former San Diego restaurateur, Gina Champion-Cain, has been denied a reduction in her 15-year sentence by a federal judge.

In August 2019, news broke that longtime San Diego restaurateur Gina Champion-Cain was civilly charged by the United States Federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly operating a nearly $400 million "egregious fraud" against over 100 investors. The SEC ultimately obtained a consented-to asset freeze against San Diego-based ANI Development LLC and its principal Gina Champion-Cain and shuttered all her restaurants, including The Patio on Lamont, The Patio on Goldfinch, and Fireside By The Patio, amongst others. 

According to the 19-page complaint filed by the SEC, beginning in 2012 Champion-Cain's ANI Development raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors by claiming to offer an opportunity to make short-term, high-interest loans to parties seeking to acquire California alcohol licenses. The federal government stated that the investment opportunity was "a massive Ponzi scheme," and defendants did not use investor funds to make loans to alcohol license applicants. 

Instead, Cain forged and fabricated documents, destroyed records, and directed significant amounts of investor funds to companies she controlled, as well as to herself and family members. American National Investments Inc. - the parent company of ANI and approximately 40 other businesses, including restaurants, rental properties, coffee shops and a surfing supply store - was also a named defendant. The court-appointed receiver estimated that there were approximately 500 investors in the liquor license lending scheme, of which an estimated 349 lost around $183 million. 

In July 2020, Champion-Cain pled guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and obstruction of justice, where she faced up to 15 years in prison. Her sentencing was delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on March 31, 2021, Champion-Cain was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison for criminal charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and securities fraud. 

Federal prosecutors initially recommended a term of 130 months, a little over 10 years, due to her cooperation in the case, but U.S. Judge Larry Burns decided Champion-Cain should face the maximum of 15 years, stating her fraud to be a "monumental crime and a betrayal." After her prison sentence, Champion-Cain is also set to serve an additional three years of supervised release.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, who is the same judge that sentenced her in 2021, ruled against a motion Gina Champion-Cain's filed last month on her own behalf. Champion-Cain contended that federal prosecutors failed to uphold their commitment to pursue a diminished sentence in recognition of her cooperation after the initial sentencing. Nevertheless, Burns underscored the severity of Champion-Cain's offenses and emphasized the significance of preserving the integrity of her 15-year sentence. Burns claimed that prosecutors did act in good faith by not seeking charges that could have had Champion-Cain serve up to 30 years. 

"The reasons supporting the defendant’s original sentence - the scope, duration, and calamitous consequences of her offenses, the concepts of just punishment, promoting respect for the law, and the need for specific and general deterrence - continue to have great force and effect," wrote Judge Burns in his ruling denying her motion to reduce her sentence. "The Court finds these factors militate against further reduction of the defendant’s sentence."

Champion-Cain is currently serving her sentence at a federal prison camp in Dublin, CA. Her currently release date as stated by the Federal Burea of Prisons is January 9, 2033, which is three years shy of her 15 year sentence. That release date takes into account credit for good behavior.