HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The CEO behind a failed north Alabama tomato business has resurfaced with a new company in North Carolina.
Hundreds of Tennessee Valley farmers bought into the idea of growing tomatoes for Cypress Creek Organic Farms. CEO, Jamie Lawhorne, claimed the farmers could make thousands of dollars.
That never happened and the business crumbled about a year ago. Lawhorne still owes two dozen farmers $228,000 from a default judgement in the fraud case.
Now a similar situation is playing out in North Carolina, where growers are concerned they invested thousands of dollars in a scam with a man they didn't know.
As of Monday, the business shut down and no one can find Lawhorne or the money.
Lawhorne called WAFF 48 News reporter Margo Gray to confess he's been hiding under an alias, and now he wants the station to do a report on the success he's having.
His new business, Wormz Organic, has the same catch phrase as his tomato business: "Come grow with us."
For $5,000 up front, the company provides worms and the growers produce the soil, in turn making a profit. The company claims growers can make up to $10,000 the first year.
Tina Barbee heard the same sales pitch.
"We were promised royalties," she said.
Barbee was shocked to hear that Lawhorne was in Concord, North Carolina with more than 100 new growers.
"I really feel for them, they probably don't know what to do," said Barbee.
The growers in North Carolina just heard the truth about a man they know as Jim Gilley. In an email sent to farmers, Jamie Lawhorne told them he had to use "an undercover boss approach" because his other companies had issues and he didn't want bad press for Wormz Organic.
Many growers in North Carolina said they invested in the worm company and never got what they paid for.
On Monday, the business shut down when employees walked out after finding out about Lawhorne's true identity. With a business that is no longer in compliance, the Better Business Bureau has pulled their accreditation.
Meanwhile, people like Barbee are still waiting for Lawhorne to pay after a civil lawsuit.
On Friday, growers in North Carolina were promised a meeting with the new owners of Wormz Organic. They were told someone bought the business from Lawhorne.
As for the lawsuit against Lawhorne in north Alabama, with a judgement total of $228,000, attorney Nathan Brock said he intends to sue more people he believes to be involved here and in North Carolina.
Also, the Alabama Securities Commission is still investigating.