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Lawyer linked to creation of $100 million NJ deli firm pleaded guilty in shell company scheme


Your Hometown Deli in Paulsboro, N.J.

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A now-disbarred lawyer who pleaded guilty to federal crimes related to shell company scams is listed as an attorney in early financial documents filed by a New Jersey firm whose stock valuation has risen as high as $100 million or more despite owning just a single, small delicatessen.

The former lawyer, Gregg Jaclin, was copied on communications filed by deli owner Hometown International with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 and 2016, records show.

They include the very first document filed by Hometown with the SEC that is publicly available.

In June 2020, Jaclin pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Separately, in a related case, the SEC in 2019 entered a final judgment against him “for running a fraudulent shell factory scheme through which sham companies were taken public and sold for a profit,” a press release noted that year.

The companies involved in that conduct — none of which were Hometown International — were incorporated in Nevada with the assistance of Jaclin, who was disbarred in New Jersey last October for his actions.

Records show that Hometown International, while having its sole business in southern New Jersey, was itself incorporated in Nevada.

In a 2015 letter to Hometown International, SEC staff wrote, “We believe you are a shell company.”

Hometown International and its executives have not been accused by the SEC or other government authorities of wrongdoing.

‘The pastrami must be amazing’

Hometown International’s stock, which trades on the over-the-counter market, plummeted by about 33% in the hours after trading began Friday morning. A day earlier, CNBC had published articles about the company’s unusually high market capitalization, which was first noted in a letter hedge fund manager David Einhorn sent to clients.

“The pastrami must be amazing,” Einhorn quipped in his letter.

Share prices significantly recovered during the day. Hometown’s stock closed at $12.99 per share Friday, down 3.78% from the previous day.

Jaclin, who is still serving his sentence of three years of supervised release for his criminal case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neither did other figures connected to Hometown International, among them its top corporate officers and current lawyer, and whoever monitors the company’s voicemail, when CNBC reached out to them.

Paul Morina is the president and CEO of Hometown International, which owns the Your Hometown Deli in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

Morina is also the principal and head coach of the renowned wrestling team at Paulsboro High School. SEC documents show that he holds 1.5 million shares of Hometown stock, with warrants for 30 million more shares.

Hometown’s vice president and secretary is Christine Lindenmuth, a math teacher and administrator at the same high school.

Lindenmuth’s home address is listed as the mailing address of Hometown International.

The biographies of Morina and Lindenmuth in SEC filings do not mention any prior experience by either of them in the food service industry, a publicly traded corporation, or the financial industry.

Hometown’s deli had sales of just $35,000 or so for the past two fiscal years. The deli was closed from mid-March to early September last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite that, its nearly 8 million shares of common stock recently traded at levels of nearly $14 per share, giving it a market capitalization in excess of $100 million.

A woman who answered the phone Friday at the deli asked, “Would you like to place an order?”

She then hung up after the caller identified himself as a reporter and said he wanted to speak to someone about Hometown International.

In SEC filings, Homeland is blunt about its business prospects.

“Our financial situation creates doubt whether we will continue as a going concern.” the company says in a filing.

The company suggests it needs to find an acquisition target or additional financing to maintain operations.

“Future success is highly dependent on the ability of management to locate and attract a suitable acquisition,” Hometown said in a filing last year.

Shareholder controversies

Key shareholders of Hometown International also include entities in Hong Kong and Macao, China, a mecca for high net worth gamblers.

The chairman of Hometown, Peter Coker Jr., is listed as the chairman of a Hometown investor that also has operated a luxury hotel in Macao known as The 13.

That hotel has boasted of a fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms available as limousines for the hotel’s guests. Online booking sites indicate The 13 hotel is not currently accepting reservations.

Coker’s father, Peter Coker Sr., is listed in financial filings as another key shareholder in Hometown.

The elder Coker, who lives in North Carolina, is listed on the SEC filing as owning 63,334 shares of common stock in Hometown International, with warrants for 1.26 million more shares.

The elder Coker has been identified in other SEC-filed documents as the founder and managing director of Tryon Capital Ventures, a North Carolina entity. Hometown pays Tryon $15,000 a month under a consulting agreement.

“We anticipate extending the term of the Consulting Agreement with Tryon for an additional one-year term,” Hometown’s annual report says.

In 2019, an investor named W. Robert Bizzell sued Peter Coker Sr. and other managing partners of an entity dubbed Tryon Capital LLC in North Carolina Business Court, records show.

The lawsuit, among other things, alleged fraud in the inducement and constructive fraud in connection with getting Bizzell to invest in another Coker Sr.-linked entity, SSAC Capital. It also said that Bizzell’s money was meant to help expand a specialty retail operation of Chapel Hill-based Southern Season.

Bizzell’s suit said the defendants “deviated from” their stated use of his money, which amounted to hundreds and thousands of dollars and converted his interest as a debtor into equity.

Coker Sr. and the other defendants denied Bizzell’s allegations.

A filing in August 2020 indicated that the lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by Bizzell with prejudice, which is normal when civil lawsuits are settled by the parties out of court.

John Marshall, a lawyer for Bizzell, declined to comment when contacted by CNBC. He said he was bound by the terms of a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement.

Coker Sr. did not return requests for comment. A lawyer for him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Public records show that Coker Sr. lived in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

In 1992, The Morning Call newspaper in nearby Allentown published an article that said American Express Bank, in a bankruptcy case filed by Peter Coker, claimed he had “fraudulently conveyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of his assets to thwart its collection efforts on nearly $900,000.”

In court papers, the newspaper said, American Express had said Coker “is a solvent debtor who wishes to appear insolvent.”

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