Chefs and restaurateurs can be shady businesspeople but this story takes the proverbial cake: According to The Oklahoman, 39-year-old Lee Michael Harrison, a some time restaurant cook from Raleigh, N.C., spent the better part of the last decade defrauding girlfriends, friends, business partners, and investors in order to live a lavish lifestyle full of travel and expensive purchases. He used many versions of the same set of scams to fool dozens of people and collect tens of thousands of dollars he would never pay back. He did it all under the false pretense that he was a celebrity chef.
According to a court filing (embedded below) from "about April 2010 through in or about May 2011..." Harrison "made many false representations about his assets or businesses in order to trick potential investors into believing that he was worthy of their investment." In fact, the cook from Raleigh "had few assets and... was presenting a façade to investors."
Though he was not a trained chef, Harrison told people — particularly girlfriends and business partners — that he owned and operated a series of restaurants and nightclubs in North Carolina. He also told potential business partners he had "worked for or provided culinary, promotion, financial, or security services to a number of celebrities." He carried around a headshot of himself dressed in a pristine, monogramed chef's coat. He also claimed he was in the process of selling and co-producing a television show called "Cut" for the Food Network. The show was ostensibly a reality-type program about him and his jet set lifestyle. In fact, there is little evidence Harrison was ever in touch with the Food Network.
It gets crazier: Harrison told potential investors he had "a personal net worth of millions of dollars." He apparently proved this to people by showing falsified documents and spreadsheets that listed him as the owner of a business called DFWM, which he said was a hedge fund; in fact, it was a corporate entity registered in North Caroline with no attached assets.
Harrison was arrested in Philadelphia last summer and charged with three counts of wire fraud; this week, he was sentenced to 20 months in jail as well as three years supervision. He was also required to pay over $40,000 for defrauding two investors who sued. He apparently paid the money on the spot.
According to the initial filing, at least two men gave Harrison $20,000 each as an investment for a completely made up software Harrison called "Capture," which, allegedly prevented cellphones from dropping calls. He told his investors he had sold the technology to "a prominent New York financier for over six billion dollars." The FBI began tracking Harrison in 2009 after his name began appearing in civil complaints in cities and states across the South.