Key investor in $100 million NJ deli has a history of legal problems, ties to criminals

Key Points
  • Legal records, financial filings and news reports detail lawsuits, regulatory sanctions and arrests of people and entities connected to a mysterious $100 million company that owns only a tiny New Jersey deli.
  • They include a lawyer, an accounting firm and a former stockbroker who have done work related to the company, Hometown International.
  • Those people and entities are linked to Peter Coker Sr., a 78-year-old North Carolina businessman who has a history of legal woes.

In this article

The $100M company that only owns a New Jersey deli with $35,000 in sales over the last two years
The $100M company that only owns a New Jersey deli with $35,000 in sales over the last two years

A key investor in the mysterious $100 million company that owns only a tiny New Jersey deli has a history of legal woes and ties to several people who have criminal convictions or have been sanctioned by regulators.

They include a lawyer, an accounting firm and a former stockbroker who have done work related to the company, Hometown International. They are linked to shareholder Peter Coker Sr., a 78-year-old North Carolina businessman.

Coker's Hong Kong-based son, Peter Coker Jr., is chairman of Hometown International, whose Your Hometown Deli in Paulsboro, New Jersey, had sales of only about $35,000 in the past two years combined.

Despite those meager sales, Hometown International had nearly 8 million common shares of stock outstanding. On Monday, shares of the company rose 0.15% to $13.01.

Hometown International, which has traded on the over-the-counter market since 2019, catapulted out of obscurity last week after hedge fund manager David Einhorn mentioned its bizarrely high market capitalizaton in a letter to clients.

"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," Einhorn wrote in Thursday's letter. "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. The pastrami must be amazing."

Hometown's stock routinely sees daily trading volume below 1,000 shares. On some days it sees no trades. But on Friday, nearly 43,000 shares changed hands. Just under 15,000 shares were traded Monday.

The Coker web

Coker Sr. is one of several key shareholders in Hometown International mentioned in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, as are entities in Hong Kong and Macao, China.

Public filings show that the entities in Hong Kong are all located on the same floor of the same building there. That is the case for the entities in Macao, as well. In Hong Kong, an investor named Manoj Jain, of Maso Capital Partners, has sole voting and investment power over the Homeland International shares held by each of the three entities, records show.

Coker Sr. personally holds 63,334 shares of Hometown common stock, with warrants for another 1.26 million shares. Coker Sr.'s own company, Tryon Capital, is being paid $15,000 per month through a consulting contract with Hometown.

Coker Sr. has himself been sued for allegedly hiding money from creditors and business-related fraud. He has denied wrongdoing in those cases, one of which settled out of court in recent years in North Carolina. He did not return repeated requests for comment from CNBC.

His partner in Tryon Capital, Peter Reichard, in 2011 entered a plea in a criminal case that led to his conviction for a scheme to illegally contribute thousands of dollars to the successful 2008 campaign of Bev Perdue, a Democrat who was elected that year as North Carolina's first female governor.

The scheme involved the use of a bogus consulting contract between Tryon Capital Ventures and a fast-food franchisee who wanted to support Perdue. Coker Sr. was not charged in that case.

Reichard is also a managing member, with Coker Sr., of an entity called Europa Capital Investments, which owns 90,400 common shares of Hometown International, and has warrants for another 1.9 million shares.

A footnote in Hometown's annual report, filed last month with the SEC, says that Coker Sr. and Reichard "have joint voting and investment power over the securities of the Company held by Europa."

Reichard did not return a call seeking comment.

Two years before his 2011 plea bargain, Reichard learned through a DNA test that his actual father was the famous spiritual leader Ram Dass, the author of the bestselling book "Be Here Now." Dass, who while working in the 1960s as a Harvard psychology professor under his then-name Richard Alpert, became with Timothy Leary a leading researcher of LSD. He later traveled to India, where he became a disciple of a guru.

Coker Sr., meanwhile, was a star basketball player at North Carolina State University after a stellar high school hoops career in his native Allentown, Pennsylvania, and before he launched his business career. At one point, he helped oversee pension fund investments at now-defunct Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania, according to his online biography.

He has also faced loads of legal trouble over the years, including some beyond the business realm.

In August 1992, the then-49-year-old Coker Sr. was arrested in Allentown and charged "with prostitution and other offenses after he allegedly exposed himself to three girls as he drove around Central School," The Morning Call reported at the time.

The newspaper, citing police, reported that Coker Sr. drove up to two sisters, ages 14 and 10, and their 15-year-old cousin as they sat on their porch near an elementary school, and "called them over to the car and tried to proposition them."

Coker Sr. soon allegedly drove his BMW back around to the girls, the newspaper said. The 14-year-old told The Morning Call that to stall for time she pointed out her mother, who was down the street, and told him "She'll take care of you."

The girl's mother then approached the car, and tried to pull Coker Sr. out, grabbing out a clump of his hair in the process, the girl and police told the newspaper.

Coker Sr., who was nabbed shortly afterward, was also charged with corruption of minors and open lewdness in that case, The Morning Call reported in the article, which noted Coker's address at the time, which shows up in public records.

Records detailing the outcome of that case were not publicly available.

Malcolm Gross, an Allentown lawyer who previously represented Coker Sr., told CNBC on Monday that he referred the businessman to a well-known criminal defense lawyer in Allentown after Coker was arrested in the indecent exposure case. That lawyer died in the late 1990s.

Allentown Police on Monday said a check of their files did not find records of Coker's arrest.

Gross had represented Coker Sr. in litigation where he was being sued by American Express Bank for nearly $900,000 in unpaid debt.

American Express Bank in 1992 accused Coker Sr. of fraudulently shifting hundreds of thousands of dollars of assets to prevent collection of the money he owed the bank. It also accused of him of filing for bankruptcy in bad faith, given the fact, American Express said, that he was solvent at the time of that filing.

Also in 1992, The Morning Call reported that a corporation that owned Unclaimed Freight furniture stores settled a lawsuit against Coker Sr. and another former corporate officer, who were accused of improperly taking at least $1 million from the firm.

Coker Sr. had been vice president of the company, and his wife, Susan, was also a defendant in the case, where it was alleged that she had been paid nearly $43,000 in rent for a barn on their property in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

"We had not done the things Valley Advisors claimed, so this resolution is good for all parties," Coker Sr. said in a news release at the time.

Accounting intrigue

A check of SEC filings and other documents by CNBC subsequently revealed other curious details about Hometown International, and people connected to it.

Gregg Jaclin, a now-disbarred lawyer previously connected to Hometown International during its early financial filings, was sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and prosecuted and convicted in federal court for a scam involving shell companies. That scheme predated his work in connection with Hometown.

SEC records show that an assistant director at the commission emailed Coker Sr. in 2012 with questions about a firm called Troy Inc. Jaclin was cc'ed on that email.

The letter says, "We note that Peter Coker, your chief executive and sole shareholder, is also an executive and/or significant shareholder of other shell companies that have recently filed for registration on Form 10."

Jaclin is also cc'ed in a May 2014 email from the SEC to Ramon Tejeda, CEO of TablacaleraYsidron, whose address in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is the same as an address Coker Sr. has used.

Jaclin, who remains on federal supervised release, has not responded to requests for comment.

Hometown's auditors, Liggett & Webb, were censured and fined in August by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. One of the accountants from that firm, James Liggett, was barred from being associated with a registered public accounting firm, because of conduct unrelated to Hometown.

Liggett told CNBC "I don't recall" being involved in auditing Hometown's records. He referred questions about work on the company to his former partner, Derek Webb, who did not respond to messages. Hometown's annual report, filed last month, said Liggett & Webb has been the company's auditors since 2015.

Hometown connection

James Patten, whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as a financial analyst at Coker Sr.'s Tryon Capital, wrestled in high school with Hometown International's CEO, Paul Morina.

Patten is barred by FINRA, the broker-dealer regulator, from acting as a stockbroker or associating with broker-dealers, according to the regulator's database.

Patten was the subject of repeated disciplinary actions by FINRA, which included not complying with an arbitration award of more than $753,000 for violating securities laws, unauthorized trading and churning a client's account.

In 2006, he successfully appealed sanctions issued by an SEC administrative law judge in a case where he was accused of manipulating the price of a Nasdaq-listed stock.

Patten was defended in that matter by Ira Sorkin, the lawyer best known for representing Ponzi scheme kingpin Bernie Madoff, who died in prison last week.

Morina, who did not return repeated requests for comment, according to SEC filings holds 1.5 million shares of Hometown common shares, which on paper are worth more than $20 million, given the current share price.

Morina also is principal of Paulsboro High School, and additionally is the coach of the school's renowned wrestling team, which is a perennial contender for state championship titles. His brother, Carmel Morina, is sheriff of Gloucester County, New Jersey, which includes Paulsboro.

Patten is the signer of a letter, cited in SEC filings, which detailed the lease of the building to Your Hometown Deli, which is the company's sole business, from Mantua Creek Group. SEC filings indicate that Paul Morina is also involved in Mantua Creek Group.

The letter was sent to Hometown's other executive officer, Christine Lindenmuth, who is a math teacher and administrator at Paulsboro High School.

Patten did not respond to a request for comment. Lindenmuth has not returned repeated requests for comment.

Public records show that Morina is the owner of property that appears to be adjacent to the deli, along with John Giovannitti, athletic director of Paulsboro junior and senior high schools, the principal of the junior high school and president of the Borough of Paulsboro council.

Giovannitti did not return a request for comment.