Hawkins Assets Seized At Home

Detroit – A diamond-encrusted Rolex watch, $4,500 in cash, a widescreen TV, couches and other furniture were seized Wednesday evening from the riverfront home of Detroit restaurateur La-Van Hawkins to help pay a $70,000 debt Hawkins owes a Georgia attorney.

The seizures mark a continuation to the legal troubles that have hounded the businessman known best in Metro Detroit for starring in TV ads for his former Pizza Hut franchises that described his pizza as “lusty and crusty.”

Last week, Hawkins was one on 12 people indicted in connection with a municipal corruption case in Philadelphia. He faces up to 125 years in prison and a $2.5 million fee if convicted for fraud and perjury.

Hawkins allegedly wrote Philadelphia attorney Ronald White two $5,000 checks, which the FBI claims were used to bribe the city’s treasurer. He is also accused of asking White to help him buy 100 Church’s Fried Chicken restaurants in Detroit and Chicago with money from Philadelphia’s pension fund.

On Wednesday, the items from Hawkins’ home were taken by Birmingham attorney Norman Yatooma, who received a court order last month to seize assets from Hawkins’ home and office to pay outstanding legal fees.

Hawkins wasn’t home when officials first arrived to enter his home, but the businessman arrived later to find deputy sheriffs carting away his possessions. He wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.

Yatooma, who once worked for Hawkins but now represents Georgia attorney Antonio L. Thomas, showed up at Hawkins’ Harbortown condo with a flatbed tow truck, a locksmith, deputy sheriffs and Detroit police.

“We are taking $70,000 one way or another,” said Yatooma, a principal at Norman Yatooma & Associates. “We’re going to get furniture or whatever else we can get that will amount to it.”

Hawkins had paid $50,000 toward $120,000 he owed Thomas, according to court records.

Yatooma tried taking a late-model Bentley that Hawkins drives to help pay the remaining debt, but the vehicle is leased, the attorney said.

Sheriff’s deputies were still searching Hawkins’ home late Wednesday night, but the seized goods will eventually be auctioned off, Yatooma said.

Yatooma himself sued Hawkins in Detroit’s U.S. District Court in 2001 for $300,000 in unpaid legal bills. Hawkins allegedly stopped making court-mandated monthly payments to Yatooma earlier this year and still owes $25,000, the attorney said. Last week, Yatooma filed a motion in federal court to appoint a receiver over Hawkins’ assets.

In an interview with The Detroit News last month, Hawkins said he does not owe Yatooma or Thomas any money. Hawkins is co-owner of Sweet Georgia Brown restaurant in Detroit and a former Burger King and Pizza Hut franchisee. He said then that he planned to countersue Yatooma for fraud and misrepresentation.

In 2000, Hawkins sued Burger King Corp. for $1.9 billion for fraud, racism and reneging on a deal to award him 225 restaurants. Burger King countersued. The case was settled in 2001 when Hawkins received a $30 million settlement and relinquished interest in 23 Burger Kings.

Hawkins also has been pursued by numerous creditors who have received judgments against him, including $393,000 for unpaid design work owed to design firm Albert Kahn Associates Inc. in Detroit; $82,450 owed to WDIV for unpaid advertising; and $49,940 for phone services to Global Telecom, said Farmington Hills attorney Ronald B. Rich, who’s representing WDIV and Global Telecom.

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