Hometown Deli, Paulsboro, N.J.
Mike Calia | CNBC
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey want the Securities and Exchange Commission to postpone its civil case against the alleged masterminds behind a $100 million fraud scheme involving a small-town deli so it won’t get in the way of their ongoing criminal case.
Prosecutors for the District of New Jersey filed a motion on Wednesday saying the SEC’s case “substantially” overlaps with their ongoing criminal case and the civil matter should be postponed until the litigation, including a potential trial, is completed, court records show.
Postponing the civil case would “preserve the integrity” of the ongoing prosecution by preventing the defendants from seeing the extent of the government’s evidence against them, federal prosecutors argued in the filing.
During the discovery phase of civil and criminal matters, defendants have the ability to see the evidence that’s going to be used against them in trial but they have access to far more materials in civil matters because the confines are broader.
The SEC and the attorneys for the suspects consented to the request, which is common in such cases. Judge Christine O’Hearn has yet to rule on the matter.
A telephone conference is scheduled in the criminal case for Dec. 14, but it’s expected to be mostly procedural and an opportunity for the prosecutors and defense attorneys to update the judge on the status of the litigation.
In September, James Patten and father-and-son duo Peter Coker Sr. and Peter Coker Jr. were arrested and charged with securities fraud for allegedly orchestrating a scheme that inflated the prices of two publicly traded companies, Hometown International and E-Waste Corp, a shell company.
Courtroom sketch of James Patten, left, and attorney Ira Sorkin at N.J. District Court in Camden, N.J., Oct. 11, 2022
Source: Elizabeth Williams
Makamer, a bioplastics startup, merged with Hometown International, earlier this year.
Even though Hometown International’s only asset was Your Hometown Deli, a now-closed tiny sandwich shop in Paulsboro, New Jersey, that had under $40,000 in annual revenue, the trio used manipulative trading to inflate its market capitalization to more than $100 million, prosecutors alleged.
The scheme began when Patten convinced the owner of Your Hometown Deli, esteemed local high school wrestling coach and principal Paul Morina, to put the restaurant under the control of Hometown International, an umbrella company they created, prosecutors alleged
“Unbeknownst to the deli owners, almost immediately after Hometown International was formed, Patten and his associates began positioning Hometown International as a vehicle for a reverse merger that would yield substantial profit to them,” prosecutors said previously in a news release.
“Shortly thereafter, Patten, Coker Sr., and Coker Jr. undertook a calculated scheme to gain control of Hometown International’s management and its shares from the deli owners.”
Peter Coker Sr. and his wife, Susan Coker, at N.J. District Court in Camden, N.J., Oct. 11, 2022
Source: Jerry Frasier and Vinny Castaldo
The men concocted a similar scheme to take control of E-Waste. The tactics “artificially inflated” the values of Hometown International and E-Waste stock by 939% and 19,900%, respectively, prosecutors said.
Coker Sr. and Patten have pleaded not guilty.
Patten’s attorney Ira Sorkin, the high-profile litigator who once repped the notorious Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff, didn’t comment when asked whether the case is expected to go to trial.
Coker Sr.’s attorney Marc Agnifilo, who previously defended “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli and disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, couldn’t be reached. It’s not clear whether the Hong Kong-based Coker Jr. has an attorney, and he remains a fugitive. Morina didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Patten, Coker Sr. and Coker Jr. were charged a little over a year after Hometown International’s dubious stock was revealed by hedge fund manager David Einhorn in a letter to clients warning of the dangers retail investors face.
“Someone pointed us to Hometown International (HWIN), which owns a single deli in rural New Jersey … HWIN reached a market cap of $113 million on February 8. The largest shareholder is also the CEO/CFO/Treasurer and a Director, who also happens to be the wrestling coach of the high school next door to the deli,” Einhorn said in the April 2021 letter. “The pastrami must be amazing.”
After news of the indictment broke, he quipped on Twitter: “I guess the Pastrami wasn’t so great.”