The fake celebrity chef who scammed investors out of $40,000

On June 16, 2015, Laurie Magid, Assistant United States Attorney, signed the indictment for Lee Michael Harrison that amounted to three counts of wire fraud. His main schtick seems to have been pretending to be a famous, TV-destined chef and startup tech guy, leeching money off potential investors, and bankrupting other victims. Early details of his doings can be found on Bizapedia, which dates the creation of his company DFW M Group to February 15, 2011, and a barely used Twitter page for that group that started on or around the 7th of February.

While we will get to his other brazen pretenses, we should first stop at the more steady scams that seemed to define his career before he hit fraudulent fame. We see his victims appear both on several Scambook complaints and a Blogspot page titled Raleigh's Most Wanted that consisted of just warnings about him. The warnings of both describe him as a predator, usually on young women with good credit, who spins tales of financial security while creating and exhausting credit cards in their name. He seems to have played at being a small-scale celebrity chef for many years with complaints referencing scams from 2006 and victims numbering 30 local businesses.

Had Lee Michael Harrison remained a Raleigh-local scam artist, we would probably not bother with writing about him. However, in 2010, Michael Harrison took his scam to the bigger leagues. 

Culinary conman

The indictment shows that in 2010 he began to falsely represent himself as a celebrity chef with millions of dollars in net worth, business ventures all over North Carolina, and a starring role in a Food Network documentary about his life as a celebrity chef, restauranter, and person. In case that wasn't enough, he spent New Year's Eve in Las Vegas with a pair of investors, telling them that these were scenes for the Food Network documentary and bragging to be a private chef for many celebrities as well as an employee for a massive casino magnate. 

The documentary for the Food Network called Cut, an admittedly good name, was the source for many thousands of dollars spent in promotions. However, as the indictment notes "At no time was he successful in this venture." Further thousands, they noted, went to attempts to open restaurants and a nightclub in the Raleigh area.

But wait! There's more.

As such imaginative scam artists tend to do, Lee Michael Harrison built lies upon lies. In this case, he built the image of a tech entrepreneur upon being a celebrity chef.

To the same investors he brought to Las Vegas, he pitched them the possibility to invest in his new technology: "Capture." Purportedly, it would prevent cell phones from dropping calls. As part of his attempt to convince them, he faked a check for $6.72 billion to represent someone enthusiastically buying in. Doing this, he managed to convince them to pay $20,000 each for shares with the understanding that the money would be paid back to them. He didn't and hightailed it to Oklahoma, where he stayed until he was captured by the FBI in 2015.

As The Oklahoman reported at the time, his sentence was 20 months in prison. His time wasn't happy, as another article in The Oklahoman reported. In a letter to the journalist who covered his conviction, he mixed accusations of retaliatory abuse from staff with some mea culpas: "I do admit I deserve to be here, I am a criminal and have been for a long time." However, comments from 2019 on the Raleigh's Most Wanted blog suggest he may have returned to his previous ways upon release. If so, then perhaps he learned to keep his lies and scams on a smaller scale.