A Gay man who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud is appealing his 4-year federal prison term he received in which his boss got 15 years in prison.
Crispin Torres, Jr., 54, was the chief financial officer of American National Investments, which was created by co-defendant Gina Champion-Cain, 57, for investors of the now closed Patio Group restaurants.
One now-vacant Patio restaurant was located in Mission Hills. The U.S. Attorney’s office described the fraud as a Ponzi scheme involving a liquor license lending program for restaurants with the fraud mostly committed by Champion-Cain, according to court documents.
Champion-Cain was sentenced March 31, 2021, to 15 years in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns, who also sentenced Torres to four years.
Champion-Cain pleaded guilty to securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. It was estimated the losses were around $350 million from 491 investors, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The sentence handed down to Torres was a surprise because the U.S. Attorney’s office had asked for six months in jail for him and one year in home detention. Burns opted to sentence both Torres and Champion-Cain to higher terms than sought by prosecutors.
Torres, of National City, had been free on $20,000 bond, but Burns denied his request to remain free on appeal of the sentence to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He had no prior record.
Torres surrendered May 3 and is now an inmate at a medium security prison in Colorado. His scheduled release date is Sept. 26, 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons website.
Torres helped form a nonprofit group called Guys Like Us, which later raised money to benefit San Diego AIDS Walk and Mama’s Kitchen, according to many favorable letters about him to the judge. He also volunteered at the LGBTQ Center.
Torres sometimes uses a cane because he developed Parkinson’s illness in 2016. He also had tuberculosis in 2015, which was cited by both his attorney and the U.S. Attorney as reasons for a lesser sentence.
“He is small in stature and openly Gay,” wrote his attorney Jami Ferrara. “He will likely be targeted by inmates with bad intentions.”
Ferrara noted the probation office also recommended against a prison term, citing a variety of factors. Ferrara said Torres did not understand what
Champion-Cain was doing.
The U.S. Attorney’s office wrote it was Champion-Cain who planned and organized the fraud and Torres was limited to asking Champion-Cain to transfer investor funds to cover business expenses.
Torres did not benefit directly from any of the fraud, unlike Champion-Cain, who was described by the U.S. Attorney’s office as someone who “siphoned off investors’ money for her own luxurious lifestyle.
Champion-Cain asked to surrender at a later date, as her attorneys said she had not been able to obtain a COVID-19 vaccination while free on $100,000 bond, but she was remanded to jail.