By Miriam Raftery
September 3, 2019 (San Diego) – Gina Champion-Cain has long been hailed as one of San Diego’s most powerful women business leaders. But on Thursday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced charges against her and her company, ANI Development, calling it a “multi-year $300 million scheme” that allegedly defrauded some 50 retail investors, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Michele Wein Layne, regional director of the SEC in Los Angeles, stated that the SEC took “emergency action to stop what we allege is an egregious fraud” after defendants agreed to freeze assets during litigation to give investors “the best chance to maximize their recovery going forward.”
ANI is accused of falsely telling investors they could profit through issuance of short-term, high-interest loans to people applying for alcohol licenses in California. “In exchange for her services, Cain and her company, ANI Development, told investors that defendants would secure an interest payment for each license approved by the state of California, which they would then split with investors,” the complaint alleges. Instead, she diverted investors’ money into the company she controlled.
ANI is the parent for 40 companies, according to the prosecution’s filing. ANI lists six divisions on its website: ANI Real Estate, ANI Corporate Hospitality Services, the Patio Group, ANI Lifestyle Brands, ANI Hotel & Resort Management, and Luv Surf Vacation Homes.
ANI provides hotel and resort management for the posh La Casa Del Zorro resort in Borrego Springs. The company’s Patio Group operates many well-known restaurants, including the Surf Rider Pizza outlet in La Mesa. When the eatery opened here with a Himmelberg bar named after her late friend, Champion-Cain stated, “It’s a special feeling to honor a friend while creating new places for the community to come together and make new memories.”
Champion-Cain was also instrumental in reviving the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
“Gina was on a committee that hired me in 2008,” says Chamber president Mary England. “She has never been on our Board or a member of the Chamber.” She statesnan e-mail to ECM, “Gina has NEVER been to my officer, never been involved with the Chamber, not on our roster or anything, and NEVER attended ANY Chamber events in the past 11 years, nor been a sponsor of any events.” England added that she can’t speak to any involvement Champion-McCain might have had before England came on board on May 2008.
Before news of the ANI investment fraud charges broke, Gina Champion-Cain had been widely lauded as a powerbroker changing San Diego for the better. A 2014 San Diego Union-Tribune article profiling her was titled, “She keeps San Diego classy.” As a real estate developer, she’s been credited with bringing House of Blues to San Diego, opening a variety of restaurants and other enterprises.
She received the “Women Who Mean Business” award in 2015 from the San Diego Business Journal.
She is reportedly responsible for the redevelopment and repositioning of 10 million square feet of retail, office and hospitality commercial space, as well as over 5,000 residential units.
Among her most recent ventures was launching “Cultivate,” a cannabis product, this year, according to CBD Today.
A graduate of California Western School of Law with an MBA from the University of San Diego, according to her Linked In page, Champion-Cain holds a California Real Estate Broker’s License and is a Certified Property Manager.
East County Magazine reached out to Champion-Cain for comments. ANI spokesman David Oates responded on September 3 with this email: "American National Investments, Inc. has been notified of a civil suit brought against the company and anticipate a receiver will be appointed. While we can’t discuss details of the ongoing litigation matter, we will continue to cooperate with authorities throughout this process. We do so with full commitment to doing right by our loyal customers and lenders. Our focus remains steadfast: To strengthen communities and create spaces for people to relax, enjoy and share. Our passion for doing so continues unabated.”
Oates clarified that he was referring to the Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit against ANI and Champion-Cain.
San Diego Superior Court records show another civil suit filed in March 2018 by Julia P. Latimer against American National Investments, the Patio Group, the City of San Diego and other defendants. It is unclear if this is the same suit to which Oates was referring. His email indicated the company would not be issuing further comments.