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New Jersey deli fraud defendant renounced U.S. citizenship

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Peter Coker Jr., left, is issued search warrants from police at his villa on the southern resort island of Phuket, Thailand, Jan. 11, 2023.

Crime Suppression Division, 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 as they asked a judge to deny him bail.

Peter Coker Jr. “poses a serious risk of flight, and … there are no conditions or combination thereof that can assure his appearance at future proceedings,” said the letter by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to a federal magistrate judge.

Coker Jr., who was extradited from Thailand last week, is due to appear in Newark federal court on Thursday afternoon for a detention hearing in the case, where his father and a third man also are charged.

Prosecutors in their letter cited Coker Jr.’s access to funds overseas, his citizenship from another country, his three decades living abroad in Hong Kong, and the 20-year maximum possible criminal sentence he faces if convicted as reasons to fear he will flee the charges,

“No evidence is more telling than a defendant’s own words,” prosecutors wrote.

They cited Coker Jr.’s legal statement on June 5, 2019, saying, “While I was born and raised in the U.S., I moved to Hong Kong in July, 1992 for career reasons and have established my roots and extensive social and family ties here. I have no intention to return to live or work in the U.S., and have therefore decided to renounce my U.S. nationality.”

Attorneys for Coker Jr. at his arraignment last week argued he was willing to put up all the money he has, about $4 million, and his parents’ North Carolina home as collateral to secure his release on bond in the case.

Coker Jr, his father Peter Coker Sr. and James Patten were charged in an indictment on Sept. 26 with a scheme artificially boost the prices of publicly traded stocks of Hometown International, and a related shell company, E-Waste, to increase their attractiveness as merger partners for private companies.

Peter Coker Sr. and his wife Susan Coker at U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, March 15, 2023.

Dan Mangan | CNBC

While the elder Coker and Patten were arrested in North Carolina and then released on bonds of $100,000 each, Coker Jr. was a fugitive for months before being found and arrested in a resort area of Thailand by police there in January.

Coker Jr. had traveled there on a passport from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, where he has citizenship.

In their own letter to Judge Edward Kiel on Thursday, Coker Jr.’s attorneys argued he remained in Phuket, Thailand, after learning of his indictment because he was too sick to travel.

Coker Jr. claimed he was receiving medical attention for cirrhosis of his liver and hypoxemia prior to his arrest.

“Mr. Coker’s appearance in the United States would have likely occurred sooner if not for serious health issues he faced in the period following the unsealing of the indictment against him,” his attorneys argued in the filing.

“Mr. Coker prioritized seeking medical treatment in his local community of Thailand rather than immediately surrendering to authorities and risking the possibility that he would be transported by plane to the United States against his doctor’s advice.”

The indictment alleges that as a result of the scheme, the stock price of Hometown, which owned only a small, money-losing deli in Paulsboro dubbed Your Hometown Deli, rose more than 900% as a result of the alleged scheme. E-Waste’s shares skyrocketed by almost 20,000%.

Both companies publicly disavowed their massive market valuations after CNBC revealed legal issues surrounding people connected to the companies, including Coker Sr.

The younger Coker served for some time as Hometown International’s chairman.

Gabrielle Fonrouge reported from Newark and Dan Mangan reported from Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

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