The Promise of Fake In-N-Out Franchises Earned Man $4.5 Million and a Felony Charge
When it comes to fast food chains, few restaurants have a more devout cult following than In-N-Out. And yet despite all the hungry clamoring for animal style, In-N-Out has famously refused to franchise: All locations—which now total around 300 and spread only as far east as Texas—are family-owned.
Apparently, that knowledge isn’t as common in other parts of the world. Earlier this week, a California man was arraigned in federal court in Santa Ana, accused of taking more than $4 million from investors in the Middle East after claiming he could help them open In-N-Out franchises. The defendant, Craig Stevens, pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges.
Prosecutors claim the scam dates back to January of last year, when Stevens began emailing potential investors stating that he had exclusive rights to establish In-N-Out franchises in the Middle East. According to court documents, Stevens is accused of taking about $4.27 million from fewer than 10 investors by asking for $150,000 in upfront fees and $250,000 in annual royalties. Authorities also allege the defendant committed wire fraud when he emailed a fake In-N-Out licensing agreement to a Lebanese investor.
As bad as these charges sound, though, at least he wasn’t the guy who went and leaked the “secret menu.”