Peter Coker Jr., left, receives search warrants from police at his villa on the southern resort island of Phuket, Thailand, January 11, 2023.
Crime Squad, Royal Thai Police | AP
NEWARK, N.J. — A former fugitive in the securities fraud case involving a New Jersey deli company once valued at $100 million renounced his U.S. citizenship in 2019, prosecutors revealed Thursday when they asked a judge to deny him bail.
Peter Coker Jr. “poses a serious flight risk and … there is no condition or combination thereof that would warrant his appearance in future proceedings,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward Keel.
In the same letter, prosecutors said Coker Jr. “stood to make tens of millions of dollars” from the deli company’s expected reverse merger, which was the target of an “elaborate, long-term fraud” spanning at least seven years that greatly inflated the stock price his.
“And the only reason Defendant and his co-conspirators failed to achieve their ultimate goal of entering into a reverse merger that would have allowed for a massive payout was because of the negative news articles that exposed their fraud,” Kiel’s letter said.
CNBC in 2021 published several dozen articles that exposed eyebrow-raising consulting agreements, troubled legal histories and other people-related issues related to the deli company.
In its own statement Thursday, Coker Jr.’s defense said the Hong Kong businessman renounced his U.S. citizenship “primarily for economic reasons and in recognition of his personal and professional life.”
The immigration barrier
Coker Jr., who was extradited from Thailand last week and held in jail since then, was scheduled to appear in Newark federal court Thursday afternoon for a detention hearing in the case, where his father, Peter Coker Sr., and a third man are also charged.
But he was never brought from custody to the courtroom, where his parents were waiting for him.
Instead, there was a two-hour delay at the start of the hearing that followed after the judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys for Coker Jr. first learned he was being held by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Such detention is standard when a non-citizen is extradited to face criminal charges in the US
During the delay, attorneys for Coker Jr. met with him and spoke with the prosecutor.
Peter Coker Sr. and his wife, Susan Coker, in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, March 15, 2023.
Dan Mangan | CNBC
Kiel eventually sat on the bench and began the hearing. Attorneys for Coker Jr. told him they told the judge they would seek an attorney to represent him in connection with the ICE detention.
The ICE detainer, which was filed when Coker Jr. landed at New York’s JFK International Airport last week, could keep Coker Jr. in jail even if he is granted bond in the criminal case.
In their letter seeking Coker Jr.’s detention, prosecutors cited his access to overseas funds, his foreign citizenship, his three decades of living abroad in Hong Kong and the 20-year maximum possible criminal sentence he faces if convicted convicted, giving rise to fear that he would escape the charges.
“There is no more beautiful evidence than the defendant’s own words,” prosecutors wrote.
They cited Coker Jr.’s June 5, 2019 legal statement, which said: “While I was born and raised in the US, I moved to Hong Kong in July 1992 for career reasons and established my roots and extensive social and family links links here. I have no intention of returning to live or work in the United States and therefore have decided to renounce my American citizenship.”
Attorneys for Coker Jr. at his arraignment last week argued that he was willing to put up all the money he has, about $4 million, and his parents’ home in North Carolina as collateral to secure his release on bail on the case.
Coker Jr., Coker Sr. and James Patton were charged in an indictment on Sept. 26 with a scheme to artificially inflate the prices of the publicly traded shares of Hometown International and a related shell company, E-Waste, to boost their appeal as private-equity merger partners. companies.
While the elder Coker and Patton were arrested in North Carolina and then released on $100,000 bail each, Coker Jr. was on the run for months before being found and arrested in a resort area of Thailand by police there in January .
Coker Jr. traveled there on a passport from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis, where he holds citizenship.
In their own letter to Kiel on Thursday, Coker Jr.’s lawyers said he remained in Phuket, Thailand, after learning of the charge against him because he was too ill to travel.
Coker Jr. claims he was receiving medical treatment for cirrhosis of the liver and hypoxemia before his arrest.
“Mr. Coker’s appearance in the United States would likely have occurred sooner had it not been for the serious health problems he encountered in the period after the indictment against him was unsealed,” his attorneys said in the filing.
“Mr. Coker prioritized seeking medical treatment in the local community in Thailand rather than immediately surrendering to the authorities and risking the possibility of being airlifted to the United States against his doctor’s advice.”
Hometown Deli, Paulsboro, NJ
Mike Calia | CNBC
The indictment alleges that as a result of the scheme, the stock price of Hometown, which owns only a small, loss-making store called Your Hometown Deli, rose more than 900% as a result of the alleged scheme. Shares of E-Waste have skyrocketed by almost 20,000%. The deli, which served Italian breakfasts and cheesesteaks in Paulsboro, a small New Jersey town across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has since closed.
Both companies publicly disavowed their huge market valuations after CNBC revealed legal problems surrounding people associated with the companies, including Coker Sr.
The younger Coker served for a time as chairman of Hometown International.
Gabriel Vonrouge reported from Newark and Dan Mangan reported from Englewood Cliffs, NJ