UPDATE: Former Cypress Creek Organic Farms owner arrested

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TENNESSEE VALLEY (WHNT) – The man at the center of a failed tomato business had a run in with law enforcement in South Carolina.

According to the Cherokee County South Carolina Sheriff’s Office, James Lawhorne was arrested Friday on charges of DUI and transporting alcohol in a motor vehicle with the seal broken.

Jamie Lawhorne told WHNT earlier this week, that he had sold WormzOrganic to new owners. He said those owners would meet with growers this past Friday. Growers confirmed that didn’t happen and now very much like the Cypress Creek Organic Farms situation, growers are left in a lurch wondering what’s to become of their worm business.

Here’s part of an email Lawhorne sent to growers late Friday with the subject line “Sale fell through.”

“So now we’re back to square one… my 80% is up for grabs, so if you think you can handle all the BS that is sure to come with the owning my 80%, then send me an email explaining your plan and I will be happy to sell it, maybe even give it to the right person.”

Lawhorne went on to say he would be making a decision on the new ownership by Monday, July 14.

You’ve likely heard the ads and seen the billboards.  Cypress Creek Organic Farms wants to build you a 100 square foot green house and help you grow organic tomatoes.  You do the sweating and they do the selling.

Advertisements suggest you can make $25,000 per year working from your home. They promise things like:

-Provide 100 hours of Organic Farm Training
-Have your farm certified and you registered as a USDA Organic Farmer
-Provide your seedlings for your greenhouse at no cost every year
-Buy all of your produce at high organic values

But these claims are creating skepticism among consumers and the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama.  President Michele Mason says the business is on their radar.

“When we see a company is making that kind of claim, it’s not unusual for us to contact the business and ask them to substantiate that,” said Mason.

The BBB asked Cypress Creek for proof that investors are making $25,000 in profits. They also asked the business for 10 affiliate farmers for references.  That’s a requirement by the Federal Trade Commission.  Another big issue for the bureau is the company’s marketing.  You can’t tout a huge income without mentioning the initial investment, in this case, roughly $10,000.

Right now, Cypress Creek claims to have almost 250 affiliate farmers with about 12 of them producing fruit.

The company claims they will pay all affiliates royalties based on 85% of the gross wholesale cost of organic tomatoes.

But Cypress Creek doesn’t currently have organic certification though they initially made that claim on their website.  Their website also says their fruit is being sold at grocery stores, health stores and restaurants.  But the owner of the company, Jamie Lawhorne, admitted to WHNT News 19 much of that fruit was just given to food establishments to try out.

Data pix.

Currently, the company has sold less than $2,000 worth of tomatoes.  But, Lawhorne was quick to point out he’s only been up and running since April of this year.  And dozens of his affiliates are backing up Lawhorne, saying his business model is solid.

But the BBB still says the potential investors should tread carefully.  Know what you're signing and the reality of what’s being promised.

Cypress Creek says they’ve since changed their advertising and marketing to reflect a realistic weekly income.  Bradley Wilson, the company’s marketing director, said they’re looking into other things as well, like tweaking their website, http://www.followthetomato.com.

“We are seeking professional help to make sure we can get our contract looked at, all of our advertising looked at and to make sure we are abiding by every regulation that is out there,” said Wilson.

Lawhorne said he is also stepping down from his specific role as CEO.

For the BBB’s complete report on Cypress Creek Organic Farms, click here.

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