“And now this”
Grant blinked at the text, not sure what to do.
“What is it?” Jules asked, taking a paper cup from Mallory and bringing it to her lips. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I need to sit down,” Grant said.
Jules pulled her chair beside his, angling to see what was on the phone. Mallory hovered a few feet away.
“Thanks,” he said up to her. “Can you give us a few minutes?”
“Oh, sorry. Of course,” Mallory said, as she backed away toward the desk.
Then, in the softest whisper he could manage, as an urgent fear pulsed through his limbs, Grant told Jules about Allen Roberts. He started with how they met almost two years ago, when Allen asked to meet the chef after a meal at that wine bar in Castleberry Hill. How Allen told him, standing in that airless kitchen, that he wanted to make Grant a star. The next year of monthly meetings, trial dinners, late-night calls. The official offer six months ago, the paperwork, the $400 bottle of champagne. Through it all, Jules just nodded, her brow knitted in questions she didn’t interrupt him to ask.
He told her about Allen’s birthday dinner in Serenbe at the start of September. The cigars, the crawfish. The talk of how he’d top it next year, when he turned 75. And then, after a few deep breaths and a look around to be sure no one could hear them, he told her about the grave stone he’d seen the night before:
Allen C. Roberts
Sept 1, 1943
Jan 27, 1967
“It could be a coincidence,” she said, once he’d finished.
“It isn’t,” Grant replied. He showed her the Google search, what he’d found and what he didn’t. He laid out the pages of his timeline. “And now this,” he said, reaching for his phone.
But the screen was already bright with an alert of four missed calls, all of them from Nick, all in the last five minutes. Grant wasn’t sure why he hadn’t felt the phone ringing, but he swiped past the alert.
As he opened his text messages, a new one came in from Nick: Did you know?!?! Call me!
With it, a link to a news article, the headline in bold. Grant tapped it:
Prominent restauranteur arrested
ATLANTA, Ga. – Allen C. Roberts, founder and CEO of The Phoenix Group, one of the Southeast’s most successful restaurant investment firms, was arrested on Wednesday for his alleged role in a Social Security fraud scheme lasting more than three decades.
Roberts has been charged with four counts each of mail and wire fraud, one count of money laundering, three counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of extortion. Sources close to the investigation report the FBI is now reviewing the evidence and expect the number of charges to increase.
A long-time Buckhead resident, Roberts is best known for The Group’s local restaurants, such as the Thai fusion staple Drunken Noodle and the forth-coming Italian taco bar Bravada, but he also owns restaurants in Birmingham, Nashville, and Raleigh. Prosecutors allege that these businesses, as well as the bakeries, spas, and salons Roberts also owns, provided cover for the most intricate identity theft scheme investigators have ever seen.
According to the allegations in the indictment, Roberts used the names and birth dates of deceased persons to obtain birth certificates and social security numbers that he then sold through an underground network. The exact number of identities he created is unknown at this time, but evidence suggests Roberts’s involvement in the scheme dates back to the late 1970s.
The indictment also alleges that Roberts maintained surveillance on customers after they assumed their new identities, documenting their lives as a means of blackmail to ensure a steady stream of cash for his businesses.
A yet-unnamed complainant allegedly provided prosecutors with detailed records of sustained intimidation and blackmail dating back to the mid-1990s. Authorities estimate the alleged extortion for this single person totaled more than $750,000.
Search warrants were issued Wednesday morning for a number of properties that are or have been in Roberts’s name, including a private residence and the Kalika Yoga Retreat Center, both located near Serenbe. “Kalika,” sources note, is also one iteration of the name for the Hindu goddess of rebirth.
Investigations into Roberts have also led to speculation regarding his very identity. Sources say that fundamental aspects of his biography, including his place of birth and educational credentials, may have been fabricated. Police are also working to obtain arrest warrants for at least two suspected accomplices.
Daniel Bennet, Roberts’s attorney, told reporters outside the courtroom where he was charged, “Allen Roberts is a highly-respected figure in the investment community, and an upstanding Atlanta citizen. We look forward to proving his innocence of these absurd allegations in court.”
If convicted, Roberts could face a prison sentence of more than 236 years.
He handed the phone to Jules, a roiling in his chest.
“This is good,” she said, after reading it. “He’s been caught.”
Grant snatched the phone and swiped back to his text messages. “If he’s in jail,” he said, showing her the screen. “Then who sent me this text?”