Lee Michael Harrison, a 39-year-old Oklahoma resident, has been charged with fraud and sentenced to 20 months in federal prison for scamming investors who were under the impression that Harrison was a millionaire celebrity chef.
Harrison, who was called a “chronic fraudster” by federal prosecutors, led investors to believe that he operated a number of successful restaurants and a nightclub in Raleigh, North Carolina, and that he was the subject of an upcoming Food Network reality television show called Cut “about his life as a professional chef and restaurant owner,” according to court documents.
Harrison also registered a corporate entity, DFWM Group, that he told business partners was his personal hedge fund, but it later became clear that there was no such fund. Harrison was also not a trained chef, though he had worked as a cook in at least one restaurant.
Court filings also note that Harrison took two potential investors and their wives “on a lavish trip to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve in 2010, telling them that the trip was being filmed by the videographer, who was with the group on the trip, for a reality television show on the Food Network,” and that “he, along with several celebrities, owned the private jet that they were flying on; that Harrison had been a private chef for several celebrities; that he had worked for a well-known casino magnate; and that H.A., a prominent New York financier, was a long-time family friend and his godfather.”
At one point, two couples wired Harrison $20,000 each to invest in Capture, a piece of software acquired by the fake chef’s fake company that “would prevent cell phones from dropping calls.” Capture, like the rest of Harrison’s assets, did not exist.
In court on Monday, Harrison was ordered by a judge to pay $40,000 for the money he embezzled, and $2,300 in fines. In addition to his 20 months in prison, Harrison will be under police supervision for three years.