HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Wednesday, a Madison County judge sentenced the former CEO of Cypress Creek Organic Farms to 15 years in prison. James Lawhorne appeared before Circuit Judge James Smith and pleaded guilty to two counts of securities fraud.
The Alabama Securities Commission prosecuted the case, calling the plea deal ‘fair and just’ for the victims.
“Lawhorne’s acts and false representations persuaded investors to part with their hard earned money. Many of the investors were farmers who pulled money from their retirement accounts in hopes of building a stronger financial future by earning money part-time growing tomatoes,” said Amanda W. Senn, General Counsel of the Alabama Securities Commission. “We will continue to aggressively pursue those who devise investment scams to fleece folks of their savings and retirement funds.”
As part of the plea agreement, Lawhorne admitted to the acts of fraud, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $30,000. In exchange for his guilty plea, the State recommended the Court impose a 15 year sentence on each count, to run concurrently.
He also agreed to pay restitution of approximately $2.1 million dollars to the victims and to forfeit cash seized during his arrest in Florida and cash seized from a bank account.
Lawhorne ran an investment scheme, promising people they would make large profits if they bought startup packages including green houses to grow organic tomatoes. Lawhorne further represented that he had negotiated a contract with a major grocery chain to purchase the organic tomatoes. Between February 2013 and September 2013, Lawhorne collected over $2 million dollars but he did not fulfill his promises, and no contract ever existed.
Eventually Lawhorne left the state. He later opened an organic worm farm in North Carolina, making similar promises that investors would make $10,000 in their first year.
Lawhorne was indicted in October 2014 and arrested two months later in December 2014, after being transported from the Rutherford County, TN jail, where he was being held on unrelated charges. After posting a $100,000 bond, which included a condition that he remain under electronic supervision, Lawhorne removed the electronic device and fled the jurisdiction. Later on, Lawhorne was caught in Florida and brought back to Alabama.
Lawhorne will remain in the Madison County Jail until he’s transported to prison where he will begin serving his sentence