Grill’d hamburger chain co-founder Simon Crowe forged his business partner’s signature on application forms for liquor licences at restaurants in Perth.
The Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor was made aware that the documents were forged in December 2016.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have obtained a copy of the forged documents and can reveal that on two separate occasions between 2011 and 2012 Mr Crowe signed the signature of Simon McNamara, who sold a 20 per cent stake in Grill’d in 2012.
The revelations come as Grill’d and Mr Crowe held three crisis meetings over the weekend after a media investigation exposed worker exploitation and food and safety issues in some of its restaurants as well as claims of shabby treatment towards some of its franchisees.
This included former franchisee Elton Berrange who lost everything, including two restaurants which are now owned by the company, and has not been paid a cent.
A teleconference held at 10.30am on Sunday by Mr Crowe and three other executives saw told franchisees the problems would “all blow over soon” and they should ride it out.
“Please go into your restaurant and do a ‘shift huddle’ before each lunch and dinner service”, chief executive Adam Stapleton said.
A shift huddle involves standing around as a group and discussing various protocols including what to do if the media calls or a customer asks questions. They were told to keep doing shift huddles until told to cease.
Franchisees were also told to be on top of the food safety aspect, following leaked internal food safety reports that showed serious food safety concerns at one in 10 of its 105 company-owned restaurants. They said the reports could prompt councils to increase their visits.
A couple of franchisees asked about the company’s enterprise agreement, frustrated that it was still an issue. “Why hasn’t it been fixed?” asked one franchisee.
Grill’d has a network of 137 restaurants, of which 105 are company-owned and the rest are franchised. The business is now owned by Mr Crowe, who is worth an estimated $450 million.
According to the leaked forgery documents, Mr McNamara became aware that his signature had been forged in 2011 and 2012 and wrote to the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor in Western Australia on December 20, 2016.
He attached copies of the relevant forms and said Mr Crowe had apologised to him for signing his name.
Mr Crowe subsequently wrote to the department to confirm he had signed Mr McNamara’s name on two forms “and it appears that the forms I signed were then photocopied by our staff and used in relation to the two other venues”.
He said he wanted to “set the record straight and apologise for my conduct”.
As well as the forged signature, the documents filled in Mr McNamara’s name, date of birth, home address and answered a series of questions including whether or not Mr McNamara had been bankrupt or a director of a company that had gone into receivership.
At the bottom of the forms, just below the forged signature, was a warning “it is a serious offence to give false or misleading information – maximum penalty $10,000”.
The liquor licences related to Grill’d restaurants in Subiaco, Joondalup, Hillarys and Claremont and were lodged in 2011 and 2012. He told the department that Mr McNamara had graciously accepted his apology.
It appears that the forms I signed were then photocopied by our staff and used in relation to the two other venues.Simon Crowe
Forging signatures is a criminal offence, but no charges have been laid. The Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor said forging signatures was “rare in the liquor industry”.
It said there were provisions in the Criminal Code for Fraud and Forgery Uttering. However, it was unable to confirm how it dealt with Mr Crowe’s admission that he forged signatures on the basis it had changed record management systems and needed to go back and search.
A statement issued by Grill’d said: “Simon Crowe signed a particulars form including the name, date of birth and address of his business partner on his behalf without first seeking his consent as his business partner was uncontactable at the time.”
It said Mr McNamara later confirmed that the details of the application were correct.
“Simon and Mr McNamara remain good friends today,” the statement said.
Mr McNamara declined to comment.
The burger chain is one of the country’s most successful retail stories in decades. The original founders were Mr Crowe, Mr McNamara and Geoff Bainbridge.
Mr McNamara sold his 20 per cent stake in 2012 after rising tensions and Mr Bainbridge sold his 25 per cent shareholding in 2017 after a public falling-out that culminated in a bitter legal battle and a confidential settlement.
Source: Thanks smh.com