According to New York media reports, police were informed that the 57-year-old Hawthorne admitted the huge tax debt to some of his relatives.
He was said to be “acting funny” and “talking to himself” in the hours before his suicide, reported the New York Post, which said surveillance video showed the business mogul shooting himself in the head inside his office.
Hawthorne, who was also being sued by a former worker for alleged unpaid overtime wages, reportedly left a note apologizing to relatives before committing suicide.
Hawthorne migrated from Jamaica to the United States and started the successful Caribbean fast food chain in 1989 by selling Jamaican beef patties, jerk chicken and breads. He built the business into a national franchise with more than 120 restaurants in nine states.
Hawthorne once appeared in an episode of CBS' "Undercover Boss." At the time of his death his company was planning on building a new US$37 million headquarters in Rockland County.
"He was a nice boss, a wonderful guy," longtime employee Everald Woods told the New York Daily News. "He's the kind of guy you want to work for that long. He takes care of his employees."
In a Twitter message on Saturday, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness offered his condolences to Hawthorn's family and employees.
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