The owner of CJ’s Southern Kitchen has promised to bring a chicken fried steak and a “family dining experience” to a Grapevine mall, to the delight of city council members.
Instead, she left behind a vacant building, unpaid contractors, a broken lease and fraudulent bank loans, according to lawsuits and a federal indictment.
Jennifer Lynn Pharris, 38, and her father, Dennis Joe Pharris, 70, are both charged with fraud in federal court in Dallas in connection with the failed restaurant. Prosecutors say the father-daughter team stole the identity of her 91-year-old grandmother to secure bank loans for CJ.
The restaurant proposal generated enthusiasm and was hailed as a welcome addition to the city’s food scene. But the promises of family recipes and outdoor seating with music have been built on foundations of lies and fraud, according to civil and criminal complaints.
The October 21 indictment includes counts of bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. Both pleaded not guilty and were released pending trial. They and their lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Jennifer Pharris applied for CJ’s Southern Kitchen at the Town of Grapevine in May 2019, according to city records.
His proposal called for permission to sell alcohol with an outdoor dining area and outdoor speakers. The site she chose was at the Grapevine Towne Center on the corner of State Highway 114 and Ira E. Woods Avenue, in a building that had been unoccupied since Mimi’s Cafe closed years earlier.
She signed a lease for CJ’s in April 2019, according to court records. The following month, she thanked a town planner for “hanging out” with her father to “discuss the exciting new restoration concept for the town of Grapevine.”
Jennifer Pharris appeared before a joint meeting of Grapevine City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 18, 2019 to talk about her restaurant and answer questions. She said her restaurant would specialize in “southern cuisine” and renovations to the building had already started. She said she expected it to open by the end of July or August 2019. Her permit application was accepted.
“Glad to see you coming,” said a city official.
Pharris added that some of the restaurant’s recipes were his mother’s and others were his grandmother’s creation. But what Jennifer and Dennis Pharris actually borrowed from the grandmother weren’t her recipes but her personal identifying information, prosecutors said.
Grapevine officials were not aware at the time that Dennis Pharris is a Houston criminal with at least four convictions and various stints in jail for state and federal financial crimes, court records show.
State court records show he scammed banks, businesses and individuals totaling $ 14 million ten years ago. Prosecutors said his modus operandi was to give lenders false financial statements indicating his family trust was worth several million dollars. He has been arrested several times, sometimes on bail or probation for other offenses. And he once threatened to harm a state prosecutor, court records show.
“Pharris said he came from a wealthy family and his parents owned a lot of real estate near Austin and had put their assets in trust. Pharris said the trust owned NG Holdings with a net worth of $ 30 million. dollars, ”an appeals court ruling said.
Dennis Pharris was sentenced to Dallas prison as early as 1993. More recently, he was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison. But he also had breaks.
A Houston federal judge in 2009 recognized the “good deal” he received for time spent in custody in a case in which he admitted to robbing two banks out of $ 1.5 million in fraudulent loans. The judge said she accepted the plea deal because he was suffering from liver disease at the time and was on a waiting list for a transplant. He faced up to 30 years in prison.
With the new charges, Dennis Pharris could face the possibility of dying behind bars, given his age and criminal history.
Jennifer Pharris, a Grapevine resident, once owned a Houston tech company that claimed it would wipe out identity theft altogether.
She pleaded guilty in 2012 to a felony – making a false statement to obtain credit – in Harris County and was sentenced to seven years probation. The charge stemmed from lies about a mortgage application for a lakefront home in Magnolia, north Houston, according to court documents in the case. Among other things, she admitted to having lied about her financial assets, her monthly income and her debts.
Jennifer Pharris told Grapevine City Council last year during the permit application process that she has worked in the restaurant industry for 18 years. But court records, title filings, and his own online biographies don’t mention any restaurants.
A 2008 court file in a parent’s bankruptcy case said Jennifer Pharris was unemployed, living with her parents, and dependent on a family trust to pay her car payments and health insurance premiums. A securities depository for her tech startup, cMoney, said she trained her in 2009 and previously worked as a cashier for two different banks.
Less than two years after the father and daughter withdrew from probation in late 2016 for their respective offenses, they found themselves at a North Texas bank asking for a loan for their restaurant using fraudulent information, according to the new act. accusation.
The indictment says the father-daughter couple visited an Irving bank in October 2019 to request a $ 300,000 loan on behalf of CJ’s Southern Kitchen. They got two more bank loans – in December 2019 and January of this year – for a total of $ 160,000, according to the indictment. The grandmother, who lives in Harris County, unknowingly guaranteed all three loans, according to the indictment.
Owner Weitzman Management Corp. sued Jennifer Pharris, his restaurant and grandmother in August in Tarrant County District Court, alleging they violated the terms of the lease earlier in the year by failing to paying no rent.
Grandmother, Imogene McLain, hand-wrote a letter to court last month in which she said she never signed anything relating to CJ and that her identity was stolen by Dennis Pharris. McLain also mentioned Dennis Pharris’ criminal record in the letter and said he stole her information during her visit to a Harris County hospital where she was recovering from a broken hip.
“He took my purse and made copies of my ID,” she said in the letter. “He got a CD of mine for $ 100,000 from Veritex Bank and a loan officer believed him !! The FBI is on it.
A copy of the rental agreement attached to the lawsuit shows McLain’s signature at the bottom. McLain said in a telephone interview that Dennis Pharris had falsified it.
“He was the instigator,” she says. “I don’t understand his personality at all. I don’t understand how you can go to bed at night like this.
Jennifer Pharris stood out for cMoney, her Houston-based startup that vanished from public records a decade ago after much initial hype.
The company claimed to have developed technology that allows users to transfer money and pay bills through a mobile app. He also claimed to be able to eliminate identity theft and credit card theft. Jennifer Pharris was in her twenties when she founded it in 2009 and became its Managing Director, Sole Director and Chairman of the Board.
A 2010 lawsuit against Dennis and Jennifer Pharris and others alleged that the couple had concealed Dennis Pharris’ ownership of the application’s patent rights and that they had hijacked the company. The lawsuit also claimed that Dennis Pharris was the “unofficial” CEO who made the key decisions but did so behind the scenes due to his criminal record.
In April 2009, KHOU-TV, a CBS subsidiary in Houston, spoke to attorney for Dennis Pharris who said his client had a “vision from God” in prison about cell phone technology that could be used to purchase goods and services.
“It’s worth it, I can’t even begin to tell you this financially, but what it’s going to do is revolutionize identity theft, fraud, it’s a great concept,” L said. lawyer, Abraham Fisch.
An August 2010 cMoney securities filing indicated that the Securities and Exchange Commission had “opened a formal civil investigation into the company” and “inquired into the relationship between the company and Dennis Pharris, and any payments made to or for the benefit of Mr. Pharris by the company. “
Jennifer Pharris left the management of the company in mid-2010.
After being charged with financial fraud in Harris County in late 2011, her father threatened to harm a state attorney and sought help from another person whom she had sued, according to the records of the state appeals court.
“I’m going to bury that bitch ‘I’ve called my guys already,” he allegedly told a former state witness employee.
And he asked another person how much it would cost to send the prosecutor on a “long vacation” or “an eternal vacation,” according to court records.