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. – The former fugitive connected to a New Jersey deli company whose stock once was absurdly valued at $100 million was ordered held in jail without bail — for now, at least — on Wednesday after his extradition from Thailand.
But Hong Kong businessman Peter Coker Jr. is willing to put up all the money he has — as much as about $4 million or more — with his parents offering their “dream” home as collateral to secure his release on bond, a defense attorney told a judge in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn Barnes was mum in court on whether he will oppose bond for Coker Jr., but is expected to do so in the coming days.
Watching from the gallery was Coker’s mother, Susan, and his father, Peter Coker Sr., 80, who is also a defendant in the case.
“He looks good,” Susan Coker told her son’s lawyers, John Azzaerello and Bill McGovern, afterward.
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The male Cokers and a third man, 63-year-old James Patten, are accused of a scheme to artificially boost the prices of the publicly traded stocks of Hometown International, and a related shell company, E-Waste, to increase their attractiveness as merger partners for private companies.
The stock price of Hometown, which owned only the small, money-losing Your Hometown Deli in Paulsboro, rose more than 900% as a result of the alleged scheme. E-Waste’s shares popped almost 20,000%.
Both companies were forced to take the highly unusual, if not unprecedented, step of publicly disavowing their massive market valuations after CNBC detailed legal issues surrounding multiple people connected to the companies, including Coker Sr.
A bitter homecoming
Peter Coker Sr. and his wife Susan Coker at U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, March 15, 2023.
Dan Mangan | CNBC
The elder Cokers drove from their home in Chapel, Hill, North Carolina, for what turned out to be just a 10-minute-long hearing on Wednesday to see, but not talk to their 54-year-old son, who was in shackles for the proceeding.
“We love our son,” Susan Coker told CNBC after the hearing. “We miss our son.”
Coker Sr., however, snapped, “You must be hard up,” after being asked how he felt about having his son back home.
Coker Jr., who was dressed in a black, Nehru-collar shirt with red buttons, was nearly 40 pounds lighter than he had been before spending two months locked up in a Bangkok jail under what his defense attorney Azzarello told Magistrate Judge Michael Hammer were “pretty deplorable” conditions.
“I think he was pretty happy to see the United States as some of my ancestors were to see the Statue of Liberty,” quipped Azzarello, who entered a not-guilty plea on behalf of his client.
Hammer, after advising Coker Jr. of his rights, said he would keep him locked up pending a recommendation soon from federal authorities on whether he should remain detained or free on bail with certain conditions.
Azarello told Hammer that Coker Jr. had about $2 million in a Wells Fargo account in the United States, and roughly the same amount in an account in Hong Kong. However, the Hong Kong account has been frozen by authorities there, he said.
The lawyer also said the elder Cokers’ home, which they are willing to use as security so that their son can be released to live with them or his sister in the same state, is worth $830,000.
Coker Jr. is “pretty much willing to stake every nickel he has” to be released on bond, Azzarello said.
After the hearing, Azzarello told CNBC, “I don’t think this case, by any means, requires pretrial detention.”
But Azzarello said expects the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey to ask a judge to keep the younger Coker locked up until he, Coker Sr. and Patten, are tried for the serious criminal charges.
Coker Sr. and Patten, who were arrested in September after a grand jury indicted them and Coker Jr. on 12 criminal counts, each remain free on $100,000 bond.
Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment when asked whether prosecutors from the office would oppose Coker Jr.’s bail request.
From deli to detention
Hometown Deli, Paulsboro, N.J.
Mike Calia | CNBC
Coker Jr., who had lived for decades in Hong Kong, previously served as the chairman of Hometown International. His father was a major shareholder in the company, whose stock market capitalization once topped $100 million despite the deli it owned having revenue of less than $40,000 over a two-year period.
The younger Coker also had served as executive chairman of South Shore Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong company that owned a financially troubled hotel in Macau, China: The 13.
That property’s initial investors included Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors, Fidelity International and Omega Advisors.
Three months after his father and Patten were arrested, Coker Jr. was apprehended by Thai police on Jan. 11 in the resort area of Phuket, where he had been staying in a hotel.
Thai police said he had entered the country with a passport issued by the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis, which sells citizenships in exchange for investments there.
A prosecutor in Thailand’s Attorney General’s Office told the Associated Press after the arrest that Coker Jr. had waived extradition back to the U.S.
The prosecutor said also told the AP that Coker Jr. “was visibly frail when he was taken in and told us that he needs medical treatment for his liver disease.”
“We believe that he entered Thailand with a possible plan to settle here,” the prosecutor said.