During the go-go 1980s, the low-key J. David Dominelli managed to transform himself into a high-flying investment superstar who promised fantastic returns. But his elaborate Ponzi scheme crumbled, robbing investors of tens of millions. Then came ruin as the man known as “Captain Money” was convicted and spent a decade in prison.
Dominelli, who also played a role in the collapse of Mayor Roger Hedgecock’s political career, will be in the headlines again this week as news spreads of his death in Chicago two months ago at the age of 68.
I confirmed Dominelli’s death late today after receiving a tip this afternoon. The cause of death is unclear, but Dominelli had been in poor health after suffering a major stroke prior to being sentenced to prison.
A newspaper reporter who covered the Dominelli trial remembered him today as a “darling of San Diego” whose spectacular fall captivated the community. “It was the scandal of the ’80s in San Diego because of the high-profile people involved, the sums of money at that time, and just the outrageous nature of his promises,” said David Hasemyer, who worked until recently for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“He was the iconic scamster,” Hasemyer said. “He was the Madoff of the ’80s.”
Prosecutors alleged that Dominelli and his girlfriend, onetime Del Mar Mayor Nancy Hoover, conspired to steal money from hundreds of investors in the early 1980s. Ultimately, the losses were estimated at $80 million.