San Diego Forget those jokes: blondes are not dumb. The proof is the former Nancy Hoover Hunter -- now named Nancy Fletcher and once again living in luxury in San Diego County.
She and her husband of two years, Eugene Fletcher, have homes in Rancho Santa Fe and Coronado Cays and have access to the Del Mar beach homes used by the Fletcher clan. They were built by Colonel Ed Fletcher, who arrived in San Diego in 1888 and developed such areas as Mt. Helix, Grossmont, Fletcher Hills, and parts of El Cajon. His descendants were kingpins in the savings and loan and legal fraternities, and the family remains socially prominent. Eugene and Nancy Fletcher are building another home in Mexico and plan to sell the one in Coronado.
Fifteen years ago, she begged forgiveness for her role in the J. David investment scam, which mesmerized San Diego in the 1980s. Found guilty by a jury of four tax counts, she was sentenced to ten years in prison but served 30 months because she provided information that was deemed useful in a related trial.
From the early to mid-1980s, she and her then-lover, J. David "Jerry" Dominelli, had gone on a spending binge from their Rancho Santa Fe digs. Alas, they were spending investors' money, not their own. It was a classic Ponzi scheme -- early investors being paid off with funds from later investors -- and it collapsed, ultimately sending the lovebirds and some of their associates to the pokey.
Dominelli was sentenced in 1985 to 20 years. Early in his incarceration, she found another lover: Kenneth Hunter, a multimillionaire from Montecito, the super-upscale suburb of Santa Barbara. He spent $2 million on her defense. They married and lived several years at his manor. He died in early 2000, and his estate later coughed up $10 million toward partial cleanup of a toxic dump he had owned.
Some amateur psychologists theorize that Nancy latched on to Dominelli because she was envious that her sister, Carolyn, was married to a Fletcher -- Steve, who is a cousin of Eugene's. Now it has come full circle: they are both married to Fletchers.
"Nancy's defense in the fraud case was that she was a dumb blonde, just doing what Jerry told her to do," says Gay Hugo-Martinez, the former assistant U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted Fletcher (then Hoover Hunter). "She is no dumbbell. I don't know what this woman has. But she could make millions writing a book and letting other women know how she does it."
Only one juror voted not to convict her on a group of fraud counts. After the decision, Hugo-Martinez interviewed the lone holdout. "The juror told us, 'I know she is a dumb blonde because I watch all the soap operas on TV, and all the blondes on the soaps are really dumb.' The agents and I looked at each other and said, 'Holy cow, can you believe that?' " recalls Hugo-Martinez. She left the U.S. attorney's office years ago, complaining that it was mismanaged by Alan Bersin, who has since gone on to the education field. She is serving as president of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra this year and heading a search for a new artistic director.
"I honestly believe Dominelli would never have committed this crime if he hadn't been having this affair with Nancy," says Hugo-Martinez. "He was a poor, sick puppy dog in love; he just couldn't say no to her." While she took care of the administrative side, he was supposed to be trading in foreign currencies. But he wasn't trading. "They both knew it was a fraud. She wrote that damning little note, the smoking gun that showed she knew exactly what was going on."
Nancy refuses to be interviewed. But Eugene Fletcher says, "Nancy feels she has paid her dues. We don't want people throwing darts at us." My book about the J. David scam, Captain Money and the Golden Girl, which the Reader reprinted over the summer, is "nothing but trash, crap. She feels it was trash."
Neither he nor many other sources I interviewed know Dominelli's whereabouts. He spent a dozen years in prison and was released to a halfway house in Chicago, where he is presumed to remain. He had suffered a stroke early in his prison stay and has probably not made much headway, say sources who interacted with him earlier.
One member of the Hoover/Dominelli inner circle who appears to be missing is Ken Holm, the brother of Nancy and Carolyn. He went to jail for running his own Ponzi scheme. Eugene Fletcher and another family member say he hasn't been seen for some time.
Some people involved in the J. David adventure have done very well. Mike Aguirre, who pressed civil suits against firms that provided services to J. David, is trying to clean up San Diego as city attorney. Roger Hedgecock, former mayor who was convicted on felony counts of taking under-the-table campaign payments from his friend Nancy, is a right-wing radio commentator who sometimes pinch hits for Rush Limbaugh. Most of the convictions were overthrown by the state supreme court, and Hedgecock settled with prosecutors. His campaign consultant, Tom Shepard, admitted that he had taken funds illegally. Shepard has since handled campaigns for former mayor Susan Golding and is now coaching mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders.
Hedgecock's lawyer in his second trial, Mafia defense attorney Oscar Goodman, went on to become a nationally known mayor of Las Vegas. He is a part-time Coronado resident. George Mitrovich, J. David's community relations adviser, became a downtown insider and corporate welfare booster.
Sheryl White, J. David's first accountant, smelled out the scam early and tipped off federal authorities, who wouldn't listen. Now she has a firm, Statecraft, that designs compliance software for politicians. She had handled Duke Cunningham's account since 1992, then was fired by his new chief of staff right before stories of his financial improprieties broke. "I lost him but picked up three others," she says.
One-time Dominelli attorney Norman Nouskajian spent eight months in prison for mail and securities violations. After he got out, he was reinstated by the bar and is practicing in San Diego. "It's an old story," he says.
Allan Frostrom, who was the final bankruptcy trustee, notes, "There were a billion dollars of claims [by investors]. When it was all sorted out, it seems to me that there were 1400 people that could prove they lost money. The final sum, it seems to me, was $93 million," but investors recovered much of that from deep-pocket suits. Today, Frostrom is an attorney who also has a real estate business.
Some people who were deep in the J. David adventure didn't fare well. Richard Silberman, who hoodwinked Dominelli into making a gold mine investment, later went to prison for money laundering. Attorney Nicholas Coscia, who had joined J. David and immediately smelled out the scam, pleaded guilty to manipulating a stock and was sentenced to two years of probation in 1996.
Beginning in the early 1990s, a lawyer and local judges became involved in ugly bribery cases. One of the lawyers pressing deep-pocket J. David suits, Patrick Frega, was convicted of racketeering charges for his gifts to local judges. Former judge James A. Malkus, who had handled one of the J. David cases, was convicted. Former judge Michael Greer, who had been a J. David investor, pleaded guilty to a bribery count.
Jerome Schneider, who sold Jerry and Nancy a bank on the offshore haven of Montserrat, was sentenced to six months in prison last year for defrauding the Internal Revenue Service. Richard P. Stark, jury foreman in Hedgecock's second trial, was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1993 after his real estate lending machine fell apart.
When Hedgecock was running for mayor, Larry Remer ran a publication that Nancy financed. Remer used the paper to plug Hedgecock and planned to use his mayoral connections to squeeze potential advertisers. Later he became a political consultant and is now under indictment for illegally using taxpayer funds to promote a bond campaign.
Some prominent personalities have died. U.S. district court judge Earl B. Gilliam, who heard Nancy's case and sentenced her, died in 2001. Retired Marine General Louis Metzger, the primary bankruptcy trustee, died last month at 88. M. Larry Lawrence, San Diego hotelier who loaned Dominelli money early on, then wised up, died a supposed war hero but was dug up in ignominy. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery because of his purported heroics with the U.S. Merchant Marine. But it was all untrue, and his body was disinterred.