I Did It is the new captivating book detailing the story of Gina Champion-Cain, the San Diego woman who was behind the largest woman-led Ponzi scheme in US history of over $350 million dollars. Her history is compelling as she was considered an icon in her hometown of San Diego, California. She had what most people thought was an amazing career. She stood out of the crowd with her beauty, charm and charisma. Her ventures included, real estate, retail and restaurants as well as a guest economics commentator for the San Diego Union Tribune. Champion-Cain also served on non- profit and corporate boards.
Her exploits included a multitude of participants such as hedge funds, banks, and small-time crooks, all fueled by greed, stupidity, and a keen desire to look the other way. Even when they were looking in the right direction, all of these people and entities saw nothing. Gina was the Penn and Teller of misdirection, acting with caring behavior to other people (while bilking her investors), creating philanthropic endeavors and single-mindedly pursuing her dream of building an empire, taking it public, and cashing out all the investors. It’s a story that sounds scripted for a feature film!
She even deceived the city of San Diego as they honored her with a Gina Champion-Cain Day. Those in power in San Diego had no clue of her sham.
The sad truth is that all of her riches and celebrity lifestyle was a house of cards funded with money from massive financial fraud.
The day her life came crumbling down was August 2019 when her seven-year program of selling phony liquor license loans came to an end. The SEC, the US Attorney’s Office, and the FBI filed suit and shut it down. Game over for Gina Champion- Cain.
Gina Champion -Cain plead guilty on March 31, 2021, she admitted that she swindled more than $350 million from investors promising to use their money to make loans to business owners who were attempting to acquire California liquor licenses. Cain received a lengthy sentence of 15 years. Her husband of many years has filed in the courts for a divorce.
The authors of this compelling book are Barbara Bry and Neil Senturia.
Neil Senturia is a San Diego entrepreneur and venture capitalist who writes a weekly award-winning business column for the San Diego Union-Tribune (I’m There for You Baby, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Galaxy.) He has known Gina Champion-Cain for more than 20 years. Barbara Bry, is a Harvard MBA and is an entrepreneur who was a business writer for the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, and has served on the San Diego City Council
“It was extraordinary that the Ponzi scheme lasted so wrong, Gina was a master at making people happy and feeling special even though there were warning signs along the way. Gina’s first sentence to Neil was, “I know a Ponzi scheme can never work.” Gina was a conflicted woman who had the power to charm the world, and at the same time was also clearly aware that the liquor license program was a full-on fraud, “Barbara Bry.
Barbara Bry shared more information in this Q and A.
Q: Can you share two or three takeaways from the book I Did It- that the reader will learn about Gina?
Barbara: Readers will get the inner workings of the Ponzi scheme including Gina’s life story and her point-of-view on why she started the Ponzi scheme, how sophisticated investors were duped, and finally, how a whistle blower finally stopped the madness. We all deal with the gap between what we appear to be or how we want to be perceived—and what we really are. How you deal with that is the challenge. This book is Gina’s story.
Q: When was the first time you met Gina Champion- Cain and your reaction after meeting her and were there any red flags?
Barbara: Neil was a real estate developer in the 1990s and knew Gina from that world. No flags. Both Neil and Barbara knew her socially, they ate at her restaurants and saw her at community events. They knew nothing about the Ponzi scheme until the SEC announced that it shut it down in August 2019.
Q: How did you both get the opportunity to interview her for this book?
Barbara: Neil writes a weekly business column for the San Diego Union-Tribune. In February 2020 (6 months after she was charged by the SEC), Gina emailed Neil that she liked one of his columns, and they met for coffee. Eventually, she agreed to share her story with Neil.
She receives no compensation from the book.
Q: What are her days like in Prison?
Barbara: Gina Champion- Cain has taken paralegal classes, she teaches women who want to complete their high school degree, and she also teaches in the culinary arts program.
Q: Can you share any new ‘ updates’ to the story?
Barbara: It looks like the investors will get over 90% of their money back from Chicago Title which held the “escrows” for the phony liquor licenses. So far, Chicago Title has paid out over $135 million. There are also claw backs from the promoters and investors who profited. It is called “MIMO,” money in, money out. It is unbelievable, and maybe never in history, for the investors in a Ponzi scheme to get that much money back. The final accounting is almost done, but the bottom is that the total loss was $183 million, and it appears that about $179 million is coming back to the investors.
Q: Do you communicate with Gina Champion- Cain in prison?
Barbara: Yes, we communicate with Gina by letter and email.
This book is truly riveting, you can learn more at:
Opinions expressed by NY Weekly contributors are their own.