Federal lawsuit alleges John David Gessin used false pretenses to fund lavish expenses
By Sam Catanzaro
A Laguna Niguel man is accused of defrauding five investors, including a 92-year-old resident of Playa del Rey assisted-living center and her friends, out of $1.6 million, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The lawsuit alleges that John David Gessin allegedly presented himself as a successful entrepreneur and raised more than $1.2 million from the 92-year-old and $429,000 combined from the others on behalf of his companies, Equifunds and Ice Fleet, between March 2017 and January 2020.
Gessin purported that the companies were involved in commercial fueling and renewable energy operations. However, the SEC complaint alleges that Gessin used the funds to pay his mortgage and fund lavish expenses, including the purchase of automobiles, hotel stays, restaurant meals, and gifts for friends and family members.
Gessin allegedly used the alias “John David” to hide his real identity and his checkered past, which includes a criminal record and several bankruptcies. He was found liable for defrauding a high school teacher he met on Match.com out of her life savings, which he lost day-trading in the stock market, in 2010. He also has multiple default judgments against him for failure to repay loans and promissory notes, according to the lawsuit.
The SEC alleges that Gessin falsely told investors their funds would be used solely for business purposes and “not a dime” would be used for his personal benefit. However, he allegedly used Equifunds and Ice Fleet to pay his mortgage and fund personal expenses.
The retired nurse, who recently died, learned of investment opportunities with Gessin from other investors who lived in her Playa del Rey condominium community. Gessin took her to a refueling depot in Baldwin Park and falsely claimed that he had a contract with Pemex, the large petroleum company owned by the Mexican government, according to the lawsuit.
According to the SEC, the woman invested $200,000 in Equifunds in exchange for monthly interest payments at 24%. From December 2018 to January 2020, she made nine additional investments in Equifunds, each ranging from $100,000 to $200,000. Gessin allegedly made monthly interest payments to investors through early 2020 but then abruptly stopped in March of that year, prosecutors say.
The lawsuit alleges that Gessin claimed that operations at his fueling depot in Baldwin Park had been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and payments would resume in a few months, according to the suit. However, the investors learned that the depot had been operating normally during the pandemic and that Gessin had no ownership interest in the facility. After the investors confronted him about his misrepresentations, Gessin cut off all contact with them and stopped replying to their messages and phone calls.
The SEC is requesting a court order requiring Gessin to pay undisclosed civil penalties. None of the investors were identified by the SEC.