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Self-made restaurateur and politically connected millionaire La-Van Hawkins, who built an empire ranging from five-star restaurants in the Midwest to burger and pizza franchises dotting the East Coast, appears to be heading toward a long stretch in federal prison.
Hawkins was convicted of perjury and wire fraud stemming from a federal investigation in which he was accused of helping a friend in a corruption scheme in Philadelphia. Hawkins was acquitted of conspiracy charges in the case.
Hawkins could have faced up to 125 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine had he been convicted on all counts. A spokesman for the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said there is no indication of how much time Hawkins will receive when he is sentenced Aug. 16.
A federal probe into the dealings of late attorney Ronald A. White, a friend of Hawkins’, led to the restaurateur’s downfall. In the indictment, the government claimed Hawkins helped White bribe Corey Kemp, the former treasurer of Philadelphia, by lavishing Kemp with cash and gifts, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2003 and a party at an upscale Detroit eatery that Hawkins controlled.
In exchange, Kemp did favors for White, Hawkins, and their associates, at times inappropriately using his position to help them do business with the city of Philadelphia.
In one instance, according to the indictment, Kemp put on “a dramatic performance” to help Hawkins in a deal to buy a group of Church’s Fried Chicken franchises. Hawkins did not have the necessary cash, but Kemp told the restaurants’ owner that he could provide Hawkins access to millions in the city pension fund, helping to keep the deal alive.
Hawkins once led one of the most successful black-owned companies in the country. His La-Van Hawkins Food & Entertainment Group L.L.C. ranked 13th on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list in 2003 with $293 million in sales. But the entrepreneur has been plagued by lawsuits.
His biggest deal, a highly publicized one with Burger King to build as many as 200 urban fast food restaurants, fell apart in 2001 after the two sides sued each other.