From <em>Captain Money and the Golden Girl,</em> photo by Jerry McClard
Nancy Hoover and J. David Dominelli
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.
They bought $100,000 foreign sports cars by the dozens. They bought a limousine company. They had three jets. They owned several elegant homes. They shelled out ridiculously high sums for racehorses.
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.
Instinctively Dominelli was an anarchist, someone who hated authority. He believed that with a little professional assistance, he could forever keep the despised authorities off his back. Once, a president of one of his subsidiaries promised a regulatory body that Dominelli wouldn't open another office within the next several months. "Fuck 'em. I'll hire a lawyer," Dominelli said. "That was his philosophy of life. He believed that a lawyer or an accountant could get him out of anything, but he often didn't follow their advice," recalls a former financial official of the firm.
Captain Money and the Golden Girl named their company J. David, and for four years it appeared they might convert their fantasies into reality: He would strike a rich vein, and she would strike the vain rich.
Hoover was out to take over and reform the wealthy, tradition-bound ruling class of San Diego, the nation's eighth largest city and easily one of its most conservative. Like many of her fellow liberals and yuppies, she preached that the San Diego establishment is callous, selfish, and too tolerant of financial scoundrels.
To an extent, she had a point. In San Diego it's sometimes hard to distinguish the landed gentry from the light-fingered gentry. Cozeners -- accepted by the ruling establishment -- have been preying on San Diego investors for years. They sun themselves on the beaches in the upscale coastal town of La Jolla and ride to hounds in the aristocratic inland community of Rancho Santa Fe. They are indefatigable partygoers, apotheosized almost daily in the society columns of the local newspapers, despite, in some cases, their records of convictions.
And in San Diego, as in many other cities, it's difficult to distinguish the recidivists from the philanthropists. That's because often they are one and the same. The habitual fast-buck operators buy respectability by pouring money into local charities -- always with maximum public exposure.
San Diego's financial scoundrels of the recent past have fallen into two categories. There were the acquisitors, the conglomerateurs -- those building a massive empire through accounting voodoo and inflated stock. And then there were the fleecers of the innocent -- those promising unbelievably high returns to naïve investors.
The classic conglomerateur was the revered C. Arnholt Smith, dubbed "Mr. San Diego of the Century" by a local newspaperman. Smith built a conglomerate that operated many of the city's prime businesses -- a taxicab firm, a tuna cannery, a luxury hotel, a shipbuilding yard, an airline -- and that owned huge tracts of agricultural land. Smith also controlled a bank with $1 billion in assets. The Byzantine paths by which Smith funneled funds from the bank to the conglomerate, and thence to his own pocket, had investigators befuddled for years. In the early 1970s, the U.S. Treasury Department's Comptroller of the Currency described Smith's bank as "self-dealing lending run riot."
Eventually both the bank and conglomerate went under. In 1975 Smith was indicted for manipulating $170 million in bank funds and channeling $27.5 million to himself and his cronies. He only got probation on these federal charges, but in 1979 he was convicted of grand theft and sentenced to prison by the state. Five years later, on November 26, 1984, he began serving a one-year jail sentence. Now in his mid-80s, he is still adored by many of La Jolla's Beautiful People.
At the time Smith was being tried, another conglomerate, U.S. Financial, was going into bankruptcy and some of its former executives into the slammer. The company, which controlled important San Diego real estate, became a darling of Wall Street. The stock rose from $4.62 a share to $62 as management used every accounting trick in the book -- including selling itself its own assets several different times -- to overstate its profits. After the crash common shareholders considered themselves lucky to come out with 25 cents on the dollar.
During the same period, still another publicly held company, Royal Inns, which owned hotels and restaurants in 18 states, was bellying up to the bar. This company reported fat profits from building hotels but lost money operating the hotels. The founder, Earl Gagosian, became very rich selling off the artificially inflated stock, often utilizing inside information, charged the bankruptcy trustee. His multimillion-dollar La Jolla mansion overlooking the Pacific became something of a local shrine -- celebrated in the press, ogled by the citizenry and tourists.
Richard L. Burns was an acquisitor hailed by the establishment when he brought his R.L. Burns Corporation to San Diego from San Bernardino in 1977. He bought Gagosian's mansion and moved his company into the posh quarters previously occupied by John Alessio -- a racetrack entrepreneur, ex-"Mr. San Diego," and C. Arnholt Smith associate who had gone to jail. Like Smith and Alessio, Burns established himself as an eleemosynar, generously donating to local charities. His energy company seemingly prospered, but one day the entrepreneur stunned shareholders by peddling his stock for $14.6 million at a time when it was worth $40 million on the market. Shortly thereafter, as grim news hit, the company and its stock collapsed. Burns used his proceeds to buy another company, Nucorp Energy, and launched an acquisition binge, gobbling up oil-field equipment suppliers with stock that rose 2100 percent in just two years. But that 2100 percent gain vanished almost overnight when the company plunged ingloriously into bankruptcy amid a sea of lawsuits.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Burns and a fellow official with inflating revenue by $50 million through the dubious practice of "prebilling": recording a sale on the books at the time of the handshake, rather than after the product is manufactured, sold, and delivered to the customer in return for money. The bankruptcy trustee is suing Burns for $10.4 million, and the company still owes banks $326 million. Not surprisingly, the major bank is Continental Illinois, which has since been, in effect, nationalized because of its bad energy loans. Continental Illinois loaned Nucorp more than $100 million and also loaned large sums to Burns personally.
There were conglomerateurs who kept company with San Diego's rich and chic but didn't share San Diegans' conservative philosophy. One was Rancho Santa Fe's Walter Wencke, a Harvard-trained labor lawyer who dared to run for Congress as a Democrat. Wencke didn't make it to Congress, but he is recognized in government offices throughout the land. His picture, along with those of fellow missing criminals, adorns post-office walls. Wencke, too, built and pillaged a conglomerate, but he had the foresight to keep stashing money in tax-haven banks while his case dragged through the courts.
On October 9, 1979, Wencke was to begin serving a five-year prison sentence for mail fraud and making false statements to the SEC. But he never showed up and has never been found, although every couple of months someone claims to have seen him on some Caribbean isle. The only people to have heard from Wencke have been officials of the Central Intelligence Agency. He wrote them asking for a job not long before he skipped the country, noting, "It would take many individuals with different skills to accomplish what I can do alone."
The conglomerateurs preyed mainly on fellow sophisticates -- wealthy and world-wise people who knew what they could be getting into. But San Diego has also had entrepreneurs who specialized in taking advantage of "the little people," particularly the elderly and retired, who make up a significant part of the population. Joseph Anthony Bello promised small investors as much as 120 percent a year in the late 1970s. He eventually went to jail for mail fraud and filing a false income-tax return. Paul J. Boileau sold the elderly high-yielding, speculative housing paper called "second trust deeds" and in 1982 took the Fifth Amendment at his bankruptcy hearing while sitting safely behind a bulletproof shield. Stephen Lochmiller sold high-yielding trust deeds to low- and middle-income retirees and then lent out the money for Palm Springs homes appraised at highly inflated values. More than 50 glowering victims were in the courtroom in 1984 when he was sentenced to four years for selling unregistered securities. Bernard Striar (alias Eldean Erickson) pocketed commodity investors' money instead of investing it -- similar to what he had done, it turned out, in several other cities under several other names. Upon leaving town in late 1984, Striar left a plaintive note: "I guess there is no other way to put it, except that I'm a fraud and a crook.... The FBI is very familiar with me." He lasted nine years in San Diego -- his longest stretch in any city. He has been arrested and indicted for fraud.
San Diegans not only fall for such rustlers -- they fall all over them. Despite the notoriety of past brigands, each new shark to surface instantly is surrounded by investors anxious to get in the swim.
Clearly it was the ideal market for Captain Money and the Golden Girl. They didn't dream small dreams. Dominelli intended to combine the dubious strategy of the little-people fleecer with the dubious strategy of the conglomerate builder. He promised investors returns of up to 50 percent a year, and he also planned to erect a diversified financial giant modeled on Wall Street's Goldman, Sachs.
Some say it could only have been attempted in Southern California. They theorize that the constant sunshine softens San Diegans up for swindlers. The sun, in fact, is partially to blame. Because it shines all year, people flock to San Diego. In the last two decades, San Diego has consistently been one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., and three-fourths of that growth has come from im-migrants. Often there are 50 to 100 applicants for one job opening, and there are thousands of well-trained, retired military officers on fat pensions who are willing to work for low wages.
Conspicuous consumption is omnipresent. San Diegans buy more Mercedes-Benzes than Plymouths. Housing prices have been pushed sky-high (averaging $133,000), but incomes are only slightly higher than the national urban average. The upwardly mobile must get deeply into debt and then have to come up with big incomes to meet the monthly mortgage.
For many that means taking risks -- mortgaging to the eyeballs and rolling the dice. San Diego is full of "high-stakes poker players," notes Howard Matloff, a San Diego lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime. There's no Old Wealth watchdog to keep a lid on the fun. Almost everybody is nouveau riche, and a laissez-faire mentality rules.
Then, there's what Matloff calls "the Disneyland effect." Many people have made a bundle in local real estate. In the late 1970s, average real estate prices in San Diego rose 25 percent a year, and amateurs routinely turned 100 percent profits in real estate deals. Thus, J. David's promise of a 50 percent annual return was not greeted with the skepticism it deserved.
"It all boils down to greed and glitter," says Roger Young, former head of the FBI in San Diego. "All reason goes down the drain. You lose your senses. In the excitement and rush to amass the manna, investors forget to ask, 'What kind of a track record does this promoter have? Where did he come from? Who are his associates? Is the operation audited? Are records available? Will respectable people endorse the promoter? Is the investment registered? A claim of 40 to 50 percent annual returns is a flag -- a tip-off." Other clues, according to Young, include social and financial relationships with prominent politicians and generous, well-publicized gifts to local charitable organizations.
Besides the greed and glitter, there's another factor: San Diego sits on the Mexican border. It's a way station for drugs moving into the U.S. from Central and South America. Drug dealers' money has to be "laundered," that is, transformed into respectable money or credit. Some entrepreneurs with foreign-banking connections will provide this service for a fee of around 10 percent. This means there is always a lot of illicit cash seeking a licit home in San Diego, and that kind of lucre often finds its way into local swindles.
While Jerry Dominelli and Nancy Hoover found the San Diego environment extremely hospitable for their investment scheme, they hadn't gone out of their way to select it as a thieves' haven, as the blue-suede-shoe city hoppers often do. Hoover had been born in San Diego. Dominelli had discovered it during his military tour.
A document on J. David stationery supposedly spelled out Dominelli's biography: "Jerry Dominelli was born in Chicago. A graduate of St. Dominic's High School, he served with the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam. Following completion of his military service, he enrolled in the University of San Diego, graduating with a B.S. in economics in 1969."
The biography was largely untrue. Dominelli, born in 1941 and one of six children, had been expelled from St. Dominic's as a sophomore. (In a sworn statement to the SEC early in J. David's existence, Dominelli declared that he was a St. Dominic's graduate, but researchers, checking parish, Marine Corps, and college records, can find no indication of a graduation or equivalency certificate.) His youth had been filled with anxiety. He had been the kid with thick glasses in an Italian neighborhood teeming with leather-jacketed toughs. He had sometimes walked three blocks out of his way to avoid local bullies, he admitted to friends. It was in this unhappy period that he began fantasizing about getting rich, becoming at least a millionaire by age 40.
After dropping out of high school Dominelli had entered the Marines but had never been in Vietnam. Nor, as he bragged to his employees and investors, had he been a member of Force Recon, the elite Marine unit that takes to the air (parachuting) and the deep sea (scuba diving) in pursuit of the enemy. It was a dangerous boast in San Diego, aswarm with veterans. After seeing Dominelli just once, a retired Marine general harrumphed, "He has never been in Force Recon." The retired general was correct, of course. (Shrewdly Dominelli never made such boasts to colleagues who had served in Vietnam or been in Force Recon.)
Officially, the Marines say, Dominelli had gone through boot camp at San Diego County's Camp Pendleton and then been sent to Okinawa. For a year he had traveled between Okinawa and Thailand, but not to Vietnam. In fact, he left the Marines in 1963, two years before Marines actually landed in Vietnam. (Up to then there had been only so-called Marine advisers there.) During his service Dominelli had been promoted to lance corporal, but he was discharged, honorably, as a private after unspecified scrapes with authorities.
Despite the lack of a high school diploma, Dominelli had been accepted by the University of San Diego and had graduated with a C-plus average. He had married and become the father of two daughters. He had gotten his first job with Equity Funding, which was later to become immersed in one of the major financial scandals to the 1970s. After a short stay, Dominelli left Equity Funding and bounced from one Southern California brokerage branch to another: H. Hentz; Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards; Shearson Hayden Stone (now Shearson Lehman Brothers); and Bache Halsey Stuart Shields (now Prudential-Bache). Briefly during those years he had studied law at night.
Dominelli's career as a broker had been totally undistinguished. "He was a mediocre broker at best," says John Farrish, his manager at Bache. A former supervisor remembers him as "a disaster as a trader." "He walked around with his head down and seldom spoke to anybody," recalls a colleague of the time. "He was never much of a broker."
Like Dominelli, Hoover was doxologized in J. David's biography: "Nancy Hoover was born in San Diego. A graduate of Pensacola, Florida High School, she took her Baccalaureate from the University of California-Berkeley, pursuing a career as a foreign service officer, stationed in Brazil and Portugal."
Nancy Hoover did not live up to this biography. She was born in 1938 into a Navy family. She had graduated from high school in Pensacola, but she had not graduated from Cal-Berkeley -- in fact, she had no college degree. The Golden Girl had attended the College of William and Mary and San Diego State but had left the latter to elope with George Hoover, who went on to become a foreign service officer. She had accompanied him as his wife and the mother of their son and daughter, but she had not been in the foreign service.
Eventually George Hoover had quit to go into the brokerage business, and he, Nancy, and their two children had moved to Del Mar, an affluent coastal community just north of La Jolla. There Nancy Hoover blossomed. She served on the Del Mar City Council for eight years (1974-1982), including one year (1976) as mayor. Championing liberal causes, she incurred the enmity of the powerful construction industry but won the admiration of the yuppies by voting for zoning restrictions on valuable property; by supporting environmentalists, feminists, and reformers of all varieties; and by vehemently opposing offshore oil drilling. After brief jobs at the publication Psychology Today and at San Diego Securities, she arrived at the La Jolla office of Bache in 1976 as a rookie broker. Her husband was a top producer and administrator there -- and J. David "Jerry" Dominelli was a green and not-very-promising broker. Hoover and Dominelli shared a desk in the bullpen, an area reserved for low producers.
For their fellow brokers, the Hoover-Dominelli tandem provided comic relief. It was Wally Cox teamed with Vanessa Redgrave, J. Walter Mitty arm-in-arm with the Bionic Woman.
To everyone's amazement, Hoover and Dominelli became fast friends -- but George Hoover never worried. He considered Dominelli a wimp and a mental lightweight.
One afternoon, Dominelli, Nancy Hoover, and three other Bache brokers (including Robert Kritzik, socialite Sandra Kritzik's husband) held a bitching session over lunch. They talked about forming a boutique brokerage house that would cater to an upscale clientele -- serving coffee in fancy china cups instead of cheap Styrofoam containers. Brokers would get higher commissions and be free of the oppressiveness of large New York-based brokerages.
It was 1979 and the middle of a dolorous bear market. Morale was rock-bottom. The idea of breaking away was attractive, but nobody thought the reclusive Dominelli would be the one to do it, even though he suddenly seemed to have money in his pocket. (He said he had been successful in real estate. He didn't mention that his wife, Antje, had received a substantial insurance payment. A woman in an adjoining apartment had committed suicide by turning on the gas, which had leaked next door and killed Mrs. Dominelli's mother and father.)
In mid-1979 George Hoover left Bache to go to the La Jolla office of another Wall Street firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert; a few months later, several Bache brokers joined him. One was Nancy Hoover. But Dominelli quit Bache to go out on his own -- to start his own commodities trading advisory. He intended to collect money from customers, put it in a pool or a partnership, and then invest it in commodities like gold, foreign currencies, financial futures, and other instruments.
After only two months at Drexel, Nancy Hoover returned to Bache and told George she was getting a divorce. At Bache she was to become the broker-of-record for Jerry Dominelli's new commodities trading firm. He had opened a tiny office in the basement of a Mexican restaurant in downtown La Jolla. The office was dark and dank but generally agreeable except when the sewer backed up, as it did on occasion. Bache also gave Dominelli space in its office, even though he was no longer on the payroll. Dominelli called the shots and Hoover placed the orders through Bache. The firm known as J. David was born.
The birth had been preceded by a romance. One Sunday afternoon, two Bache brokers were in the office. Dominelli and Hoover came in barefoot. They had been to the beach and wanted to catch up on work. "I noticed that as they sat at the desk, their toes were touching. I could not believe it. Neither could my buddy," recalls one broker.
By and large it was a discreet affair. In February 1983, the Kritziks, close friends of Hoover and Dominelli, realized for the first time that the two were lovers. Sandra Kritzik went to see an apartment Hoover and Dominelli had purchased and noticed that there was only one bed, and a pink negligee hanging in the bathroom.
From the start Captain Money and the Golden Girl established themselves as workaholics, toiling from early morning to late evening. At the outset J. David collected small amounts -- $3000 or $5000 or $10,000 -- from individuals and invested the proceeds. The pools were moderately successful; some made money, some lost money. None did smashingly well or egregiously poorly.
To sell his pools and partnerships, Dominelli distributed throughout San Diego a track record he claimed to have compiled while at Bache. According to the unaudited document, he had started with $5000 in December 1977 and nimbly put it into gold, Swiss francs, British pounds, and Treasury bonds and bills. By the last day of 1977, the pot had grown to $52,181.50.
The next year, according to the track record, Dominelli had started with $10,000 and adeptly dabbled in foreign currencies, federal paper, copper futures, and the like. By year's end the pot had ballooned to $84,446.85. Through the dog days of 1979, some $15,000 had swelled to $39,592.
By chance a man writing a book on commodities, Mark Robert Yarry, was investing through Bache's La Jolla office at the time. He met Dominelli and studied his track record. So impressed was Yarry that he inserted the record in his book, The Fastest Game in Town: Commodities, published in 1981 by Prentice-Hall.
Yarry declared Dominelli -- never identified by name as the broker who had compiled the amazing record -- a "genius." At J. David, Yarry's book became a sales tool. Soon Dominelli was talked about all over San Diego.
The word most people used was "genius."
"I thought he was an oddball, a kook, an eccentric --but a genius trader," recalls an investor who eventually put more than $1 million with J. David.
"His behavior was bizarre. He was so eccentric. But I thought he was a genius at trading," says another investor, who was paid large commissions to steer his clients to Dominelli.
When the Beautiful People would ask what Nancy Hoover saw in Jerry Dominelli, the reply would almost always be "his brains."
Dominelli's appearance and demeanor helped establish the image. His thick glasses, acute hearing problem, and shyness all somehow smacked of genius. He would abruptly walk out of a tense meeting in mid-sentence, mumbling as he stared into space. "He was the absent-minded professor," says Sandra Kritzik, whose family pumped half a million dollars into Dominelli's operation. "One permits a genius his idiosyncrasies. I really thought Jerry was a financial genius. Had I met him in any other circumstance, I would have thought of him as a nothing."
His language was memorable. "Every other word was 'fuck,' " recalls a former executive. Dominelli would sit at his quote machine watching prices in international currencies change and would sporadically blurt, "Fuckin' franc!"
"He was a street kid with street smarts, but he wasn't articulate," remembers Kritzik. His crudity in public often embarrassed more refined companions, including Hoover.
Almost everyone who knew Dominelli described him as "a nice guy." He appeared to have a frail ego to match his frail stature. He exuded humility. However, as a friend says, "He had a violent temper." Once he was threatening to sue a former employee of the firm. "If this was 1890, I'd shoot him with a fuckin' gun," shouted Dominelli, demanding that one of his vice-presidents get a signed document from the ex-employee. "What do you want me to do? Break his arm?" said the vice-president. "Do anything to get that fuckin' signature," Dominelli told the vice-president and then added, "You're no longer an employee of this company." Later, though, Dominelli relented. "I only said that to you because I was in a room full of lawyers," he explained.
Dominelli was indecisive but considerate of people who had been hurt by his changes of mind. One Friday a president of a subsidiary finally talked Dominelli into hiring an accountant. By Monday Dominelli had flip-flopped. "We don't need a fuckin' accountant," he said. "Should I tell him to leave?" "He's right outside the door," replied the executive. "Oh, Christ. Well, okay, get him a desk," shrugged Dominelli.
Dominelli was an enigma to his employees. He overpaid them, lavished them with gifts, and reeked of solicitude; but like Hoover, he had a short attention span and very little time for anybody. As long as people believed that he was an authentic financial genius, however, he had indisputable charisma. "Getting an audience with Jerry was like getting an audience with a king. He captivated people, had a real flair," says a former executive. "Think of Jerry as a chameleon. He can be anything he thinks you want him to be. If he thinks you would like to see him sad, he can come on sad," according to a former officer of J. David.
Dominelli's kindnesses were legendary. When a secretary died, he paid for the funeral. When the daughter of a consultant had a medical emergency and had to be flown out of remote ski country, Dominelli dispatched his personal jet immediately and refused to accept a penny of payment from the grateful father, a man of considerable wealth.
He even took in stray cats. One that occupied his office was named Swissie, after the Swiss franc.
When refurbishing a new J. David office, workmen had set traps for mice. Dominelli couldn't bear to see dead mice in traps; he would spring all the traps, leaving the cheese so that the mice could dine in safety.
One of Dominelli's great weaknesses was that he couldn't refuse requests for money -- from local charities, from employees wanting to launch a project, from friends wanting a loan or his participation in an investment. This quality endeared him to Nancy Hoover. And there was nothing in his life more important than pleasing her.
She had divorced her husband because she considered him a pennypincher. "We'd be dining out with people, and he would never reach for the tab," she complained bitterly. She dreamed of becoming a great philanthropist, arts patron, and friend of the downtrodden but could never realize the dream with her husband. "I can't understand people who conserve their money," she told an associate. "What good is it lying in banks?" Money was to be spent and to be given away.
The willingness to part with money quickly -- and foolishly -- was one of the main things Captain Money and the Golden Girl had in common. "Jerry is the consummate consumer," Hoover would bubble. Their offices were absurdly ornate. They bought $100,000 foreign sports cars by the dozens. Still unsated they bought a limousine company for personal transportation. They had three jets. They owned several elegant homes. They shelled out ridiculously high sums for racehorses. She collected expensive jewelry. He wore only drab but very expensive suits, mostly pinstripe, with vests. At the company's peak, he had 50 such suits and four dozen pairs of shoes, all Italian wingtips.
To some people, such ostentatious consumption didn't fit with the public image Hoover was trying to cultivate. "She claims to be a liberal. She's a 14th-century French courtesan, for Christ's sake," says a former J. David employee. Many friends believe that Hoover really craved the life of luxury because she was trying to one-up her sister, who had married into a rich establishment family.
But there was the other side of Hoover: She had an uncontrollable obsession to give money away. Before J. David made it big, she had told the local media, "My real dream is that I'd like to help more, if I could get really rich."
According to the J. David biography, Hoover became known as "one of the city's leading arts patrons." That wasn't hyperbole. She was. She joined the board of the symphony and the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art. She helped the poor and dozens of local causes. Almost no charity was turned down.
Soon, Captain Money and the Golden Girl were celebrated for their lavish parties, attended by local and national politicians, the rich and the chic, and the "new class" of liberals she was grooming for a raid on the establishment. Indeed, the whole J. David clique was thought of in San Diego as "the establishment-in-waiting."
At the parties Jerry Dominelli faded into the background as Hoover luminesced. Sometimes he was introduced as "Mr. Hoover."
Once he was intending to have a private birthday party for himself with one of his daughters at a local inn. Hoover, who was very jealous of Dominelli's wife and children, tried to upstage the get-together by inviting the office for a surprise party at the same inn at the same time. Word of the surprise got to Dominelli just as he was mounting the stairs to the second floor of the inn, where many of his employees, awash in bottled spirits, were waiting to belt out "Happy Birthday." "Goddamned Hoover!" he exclaimed, racing back downstairs. He ducked into a washroom and hid there for some time, leaving his daughter to fend for herself. Later he emerged and reluctantly joined the party.
Generally, he was a willing if timid participant in these parties, as long as he could spent part of his time with Hoover. "Jerry couldn't stand to be separated from her. He was like a teddy bear or a cocker spaniel. He would wander into an area where she was. There was no hugging or physical contact -- he just wanted to bask in her aura," recalls Sandra Kritzik. At one skiing party, she injured her hand, so he cut her food for her and fed her with his fork.
At social gatherings Dominelli would soon tire of the glad-handing Hoover reveled in. He would slouch off to a corner and read market newsletters. But no one criticized him. He was, after all, a financial genius.
Nancy Hoover had found the man of her dreams, the man who could make both of her dreams come true. She was living the high life and showering money on local charities. It was all she had ever wanted.
But a few people were wondering. "It seemed they were trying to accomplish in a handful of years what it takes other families three generations," says Sandra Kritzik.