More Victims Identified in Alleged San Diego Ponzi Scheme

NBC 7 Investigates was first to report allegations that a Poway man scammed dozens of victims for years. Some of those investors say they lost their life savings.

Some couples say they lost thousands of dollars. Others say they lost their entire life savings. 

As prosecutors continue to investigate 46-year-old Christopher Dougherty’s alleged years of deception, they have now identified eighteen new victims who say their money was stolen in what prosecutors call "an elaborate Ponzi scheme." 

It’s estimated that scheme netted millions of dollars for its accused mastermind. 

On August 6, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office filed 50 new charges against Dougherty after the additional investors presented evidence he stole their savings over the past five years. This brings the total number of alleged victims to 49 people. 

To read the new charging documents, click here

NBC 7 Investigates was first to expose Dougherty’s alleged Ponzi scheme back in March, when eleven investors were first to say they had received little or no return on the millions of dollars they invested with him.  

The investors told NBC 7 their troubles started when Dougherty pitched them on “financial opportunities,” which included investments in organic beef ranches, housing and or cannabis cultivation. 

Christopher Dougherty pitched this 100-acre ranch in Alpine to investors as an "organic beef" ranch as well as a location to cultivate marijuana.

Prosecutors say Dougherty used money from new investors to pay existing investors who asked for their money back. They allege Dougherty repeated this illegal process until last year, when he had apparently siphoned off all his investors’ cash, and filed for bankruptcy. 

According to prosecutors, Dougherty used investor money to remodel his home, travel, and pay college tuition for his children. 

The ongoing investigation into Dougherty has also uncovered a past instance where state officials were informed of another potential crime, but took no action. 

According to prosecutors, in November of 2017, Dougherty posed as a life insurance policyholder and tried to cash out a policy. The new charging documents say American Equity Life Insurance discovered the alleged ploy and reported it to the California Department of Insurance. 

Nancy Kincaid-Goldberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Insurance confirmed the agency received a referral from American Equity Life insurance in January of 2018 and said the investigation into this is ongoing. 

At this time, it’s unknown whether Dougherty was posing as a policyholder or an agent representing a policyholder when he tried to withdraw the funds. 

It’s also unclear whether the attempted withdraw would have been enough for prosecutors to file criminal charges. 

In June, NBC 7 Investigates discovered that for seven years, two state agencies -- including the Department of Insurance -- neglected to warn investors of Dougherty’s criminal history and fraudulent actions. Investors say that notification could have prevented them from handing over so much money to Dougherty. 

To read more about that development, click here.  

One month after NBC 7 aired its first story about Dougherty, he was arrested and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office accused him of defrauding at least 31 families, totaling more than $8 million dollars. 

With the new victims, prosecutors say investors gave Dougherty at least nine-million dollars over the course of his alleged "Ponzi scheme” but that number could change. 

In the new charging documents, investigators say they found Dougherty had also filed a fraudulent tax return in 2016, 2017 and 2018. 

On Friday, Dougherty’s defense attorney stressed the public shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

“The filing of a complaint is not evidence of guilt,” said Dougherty’s defense attorney Abram Genser, reacting to the newly filed charges. “People are presumed to be innocent, and Mr. Dougherty—despite the gravity of the charged crimes—should receive the benefit of this presumption.”

A preliminary hearing, where prosecutors will show a Judge the evidence they have gathered in their investigation of Dougherty, is set for September 24, 2019.

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