With his low-key demeanor, three-piece suits and thick glasses, J. David Dominelli was no one’s idea of a snake-oil salesman. “He didn’t come across as anything more than just an average guy,” says a reporter who covered him.

He was anything but.

In the early 1980s, the multi-millionaire Dominelli lived a life of glorious excess with a vivacious politician on his arm, all while peddling a dream to San Diego’s glitterati: Give me your money, and you can be fantastically wealthy too. 

It was a scam, a giant Ponzi scheme that robbed investors of an estimated $80 million and doomed an ailing Dominelli to a decade in prison. The man known as “Captain Money” was paroled in 1996 and entered a life of obscurity, only attracting attention yesterday amid the belated news of his death in August at the age of 68. 

There were no immediate details about the cause of death or what he’s been doing for the past 13 years in Chicago.

In other news:

  • Nearly every time a County Office of Education executive tells her boss that the agency should get outside legal help, her husband’s law firm gets the work, according to our analysis.

    Earlier this year, we wrote about the connection between Human Resources Executive Director Michele Fort-Merrill and her husband’s firm, Best, Best amp; Krieger. Legal and ethical experts were troubled by the connection but wanted to know how likely it was that BB&K would get the work.

    Very likely, our new analysis of legal bills has shown. BB&K has received 99 percent of the human resources work since 2005.

  • Who caused San Diego’s pending $179 million deficit? To Mayor Jerry Sanders, it’s more like a what: He blames it on the recession.

    But as our explainer shows, “plenty of other sources have long warned of budget problems beyond troubled economic times as the city slogged through tough budget years even during boom times.”

    The city’s chief operating officer isn’t impressed with the argument that officials should have seen this mess coming. He says the deficit was “caused, or virtually caused, by the recession.”

    In other news on our site:

  • The governor has signed legislation prompted by a so-called “loophole” that “allowed the city and the county to generate redevelopment revenue in Grantville [the neighborhood around Mission Gorge Road] and spend it in downtown.”
  • San Diego officials still haven’t made a decision regarding a “one-stop shop” for the homeless, and it looks like it won’t be made soon.
  • A dissident shareholder in the local biotech firm Amylin Pharmaceuticals is taking its money and running.
  • The city says a new combo hotel-apartment complex in Little Italy is working to resolve issues regarding whether it’s letting the world know there are apartments there. We’ve been following this story for a while: The complex is supposed to rent apartments in order to provide affordable housing, but there have been plenty of questions.
  • Elsewhere: The San Diego City Council voted to move forward with considering a new City Hall but not to guarantee voters will have a say. (U-T)

    And the U-T says a report commissioned by the Del Mar Fairground, which wants to grow, found that an expansion would significantly affect “traffic, air quality, public services and utilities, noise, and greenhouse gases.”

    Wow. What’s left?

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly characterized our story about the connection between a county human resources official and her husband’s law firm. The official did not recommend that legal business go to her husband’s firm.

She recommended to the superintendent whether outside legal help was needed. If the County Office ultimately did use outside legal help for human resources issues, that work has ultimately gone to her husband’s firm 99 percent of the time since 2005. We regret the error.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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