California Schemin’ | American Greed Youtube Exclusive

Pamela Corey expects her $20,000 back.

That was money that Corey — one of nearly 500 friends and investors snookered in Gina Champion-Cain’s $400 million Ponzi scheme — inherited from her late father.

In a revealing moment, the next episode of CNBC’s “American Greed” series shows how a still-starstruck Corey says she’s in touch with Champion-Cain, her former boss serving a 15-year prison term in a liquor-license scam.

“She didn’t directly say I’m sorry,” Corey tells the camera. “She just said: I promise you’ll get all your money back, you know?”

Corey idolized Champion-Cain and went to work in one of her Luv Surf shops. Now she considers her former mentor a “sociopath.”

“She was intimidating and in a good way to me, I guess,” Corey says in the show airing at 7 p.m. Tuesday in San Diego. “I looked up to her because … she’s as powerful woman entrepreneur… How do I become that someday?”

Also appearing in the hourlong episode, titled “California Schemin,’” are San Diego Union-Tribune business writer Lori Weisberg and U-T columnist and venture capitalist Neil Senturia, who with his wife, Barbara Bry, wrote the “as told to” book “I Did It.”

Senturia interviewed Champion-Cain for about 50 hours, says the “American Greed” show narrated by Stacy Keach. (Senturia told Times of San Diego it was 40 hours.)

“American Greed has been doing these kinds of programs for more than 15 years – and they never run out of material,” Senturia said recently. “Greed and human nature – mixed with fraud, arrogance, and stupidity on a croissant – that is a heck of a sandwich.”

Senturia also opines that Champion-Cain was in the biz for fame and glory as well as money.

The episode is the latest to focus on a San Diego scandal — after one devoted to the campaign finance corruption case that led Duncan D. Hunter to resign from Congress.

In the Champion-Cain episode viewed by Times of San Diego, deposition footage is shown along with snippets of her 2017 appearance before a San Diego business group. Also a lot of aerial footage of San Diego locales.

Helping tell the story of a high-flier’s shocking crash are:

  • Howard Greenberg, a real estate manager who punctures the Champion-Cain myth of business genius.
  • Kim Peterson, the real estate developer who became one of Champion-Cain’s biggest aggregators.
  • Mark Cramer, an attorney for investors (who are expected to get 95% of their money back, according to the show).
  • Michael Brewer, a liquor license expert who notes that escrow accounts weren’t mandatory for applicants as Champion-Cain suggested to her victims.
  • And Drew Galvin, former assistant U.S. attorney, who detailed the largest Ponzi scheme in San Diego history.

Expanding on a U-T video explaining the fraud, “American Greed” does a great job explaining its mechanics, especially how Chicago Title gave the scam a veneer of respectability.

“Chicago Title has admitted to no wrongdoing, and no one from the company has faced criminal charges,” the show says, noting the giant insurance corporation “didn’t respond to ‘American Greed’ for comment.”

Champion-Cain was contacted by the Securities and Exchange Committee in May 2019, and the Senturia-Bry book depicts her as remorseful and fully cooperative with the feds.

But “American Greed” is told how “behind closed doors she did everything she could to thwart the government’s investigation,” including ordering her employees not to produce incriminating documents and to shred “a huge volume of hard-copy documents.”

And still she didn’t stop trying to lure more investors.

“It almost sounds like the addicted gambler who wants to go to the blackjack table one more time,” says the U-T Weisberg, who with Greg Moran produced the deepest dive into the case. “She was convinced that the strength of her portfolio — by taking it public (via an IPO), she could pay everyone back.”

The segment also notes, ironically, how Champion-Cain was herself a victim of a Ponzi scheme. (The U-T described this as well, and how Champion-Cain lost $150,000 in 2009.)

The concluding interview in “American Greed” belongs to Senturia.

He recalls asking her: “If you’d only had the one really good restaurant, The Patio, and two or three vacation rentals, would that have been enough?”

Senturia thinks she nods and says “yeah” in response.



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Ellen Bullock