He had a passion to do well. She had a passion to do good. Together, they touted his investment scheme, which bilked a thousand investors of $80 million. He has confessed to planning and running the swindle; her involvement is under investigation. From conception to collapse the scam was pathetically mismanaged — yet it wound up being one of the largest frauds of its kind in U.S. history. The scheme had high-priced help from respectable, well-connected law, brokerage, accounting, and insurance firms. Without the expertise and the imprimatur of rectitude these institutions provided, it would quickly have come apart.
J. David "Jerry" Dominelli and his lover and business associate, Nancy Hoover, considered themselves in the vanguard of the New Enlightenment — role models for the Yuppies. Heaping contumely on the gluttonous, atavistic establishment they loathed, Hoover and Dominelli created a public profile as rich people who cared, who shared. They fancied themselves as philanthropic. But belying that image, the lovers went on a four-year personal-spending binge that would have embarrassed America's wealthiest families.
The couple had their own Fantasy Island — a tiny isle in the British West Indies. It wasn't a lovers' hideaway. It was a legal and accounting mirage. For tax and regulatory purposes, they told the government that their firm's financial activities were taking place there.
Their investors believed they were making a steady 40 to 50 percent annually on their money. For three years gullible and greedy people from San Diego and Orange counties and from nearby Palm Springs -- and in fact throughout the world—- were informed that their nest egg had gone up in value every month except one. It was an absurd claim, but there was a platoon of gung ho ex-Marines and assorted other warriors who aggressively peddled this wondrous investment program. Like good warriors, they never challenged the officers giving the orders, and until the scheme collapsed in bankruptcy, few investors challenged the Marines.
Dominelli, the officer-in-charge, even had an officer's title: "Captain Money." Hoover's children named him that because he lavished so much money on them. Fantasizing about spit and polish and brute force, he would frequently chide Hoover, "You'd never make it in the Marines." But actually he had been unable to cut it as a Marine.
He was slight of build, pallid, withdrawn, and publicity-shy. His glasses were as thick and foggy as a gin bottle, and they constantly slid down his nose as he spoke. With a weak smile and a limp gesture, he would slip them back in place with his little finger. He also had an acute hearing problem. When someone addressed him, Dominelli would almost invariably respond, "Huh?" Until the end few figured out that the hearing problem was very useful -- it gave him time to come up with plausible answers. And some questioned that hearing problem. "He had selective hearing loss. He didn't hear what he didn't want to hear. But he could hear a pin drop across the room if it served his purposes," says a government prosecutor. Dominelli also suffered from allergies; if he forgot to pop his pills, he was a basket case.
Nancy Hoover would have made a magnificent Marine. She was as tanned and fit as Dominelli was pale and flabby. Almost six feet tall (three inches taller than he was), she had steeled her psyche in her youth by combating her hard-bitten Navy pilot father. Day after day, she had shot him down with her vivacity -- a quick wit, a gift of gab, eternal effervescence, and optimism. She would later use these tools deftly to get her way. "Nancy is a jungle fighter," comments a former employee. "She responds to power."
Hoover had a very short attention span. A Hoover monologue was a stream of non sequiturs. She leapt from topic to topic -- and from emotion to emotion -- without perceivable bridges. A listener was inevitably bewildered. "One time," recalls a former executive of the company, "I walked into a bar in mid-afternoon, and a fellow from the office rushed in. 'Give me a drink. Nancy's driving me crazy,' he said. She'd make people so frustrated they'd have to get away. She was capable of telescoping events. In one hour with her, you would get the full range of human emotions. All your emotions were challenged."
To people on the inside, she was flawed. But to people on the outside, she appeared almost perfect. "Nancy Hoover is outgoing, natural, debonair, as American as apple pie, as genuine as the Stars and Stripes. She is warm, natural, believable, honest, generous to a fault," says Sandra Kritzik, a socialite who knows Hoover well.
"She has a vivacious smile, she's upbeat, generous to everybody...to the mailman, to the taxi driver. She used to give $100 bills to her hairdresser and the lift attendant on skiing trips," says a former close personal and business associate. Sometimes her passion to do good deeds would incinerate her good judgment. "When one of her daughter's girlfriends wanted a new car, and her mother wouldn't buy it for her. Nancy gave her one," says the former associate.
Hoover was as aggressively social as Dominelli was antisocial. She would go out jogging, encounter 30 other joggers en route, and invite them all to her house an hour later for a magnificent brunch. She showered gifts on people and not always for a quid pro quo. Often she gave anonymously.
Hoover was uninhibited in many ways, going around her home topless, for example. But Dominelli was painfully reserved about his body. Indeed, he was a bluenose of sorts. One of his commodity-trading advisers, Robert Mengar, liked to drop an earthy comment or two in a company newsletter. When IBM brought out its home computer, colloquially called the "Peanut," Mengar wrote that IBM's competitors suffered from "Peanut envy." Dominelli blushed and edited the phrase out.
Politically Hoover was a liberal social reformer in a conservative city. As such, she had been crowned "The Golden Girl" by fellow liberals in the media. If Dominelli had any political philosophy, it was Libertarian. "If they're gonna get me to pay fuckin' taxes, they're gonna have to come get me," he would say in his Chicago street vernacular. His close colleagues -- mostly liberal Democrats -- considered him a conservative Republican, and he had taken out an ad in the Chicago Tribune in 1980 supporting Ronald Reagan. However, Dominelli also poured money into the campaigns of Democrats, no doubt at Hoover's direction. "Maybe you should call him a Libertarian Republican," says a former associate.