Profile: Skip Clements
Ten years ago, Skip Clements saw himself as the king of citrus marketing. A scam dethroned him, and today he’s consumed with a quest for redemption and retribution.
‘Not a close call’
In December 2000 — barely three months after it went public — the stock began collapsing. Clements, frustrated that no money was coming in from the stock trading to replenish the company as he expected, became convinced he was being played. In April 2001, he went public in the media and visited federal authorities. Clements as whistleblower was born. The company sacked him. CFO Rizzuti filed a court action to evict him from a house he had lent him. The car Clements used was repossessed — so was his boat. He says he found out his health insurance was canceled when he was hospitalized for a heart catheterization.
• Federal Prosecutor Mark Johnson
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
Investigators, Clements says, have asked him pointed questions about how he could have been so ignorant. He says he trusted others and was busy in China. “You were dealing with a neophyte when it came to stock,” he says. “Should I have known? I don’t know. Maybe.”
Johnson, who prosecuted the case and is now in private practice, says, “I’m confident (Clements) didn’t get any money. He just didn’t really understand how the financing worked, and he didn’t like it and was never very diligent about pursuing it. ... He still doesn’t really understand. Frankly, he’s not a detail guy, anyway. He’s a salesman.”
As it happens, in 2001 investigators from the SEC in Boston looked at another Mintmire-created company that had aroused suspicion. An SEC enforcement lawyer, in part using Mapquest, was intrigued to find that so many “sophisticated investors” happened to be in their early 20s and live in the same area of Atlanta as Mark Mintmire. “I mean, most of them don’t have money to invest in the stock market in the first place, and if they were going to invest, they wouldn’t invest in a company like that,” SEC attorney Lauchlan Wash later testified.
When questioned in 2003 by SEC lawyers about that company, Mark Mintmire invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Donald Mintmire testified for two days, not admitting to any crime but saying he had merely loaned the young people the money, though conceding that perhaps they didn’t know it was a loan.
In Florida, a grand jury led by Johnson and an IRS agent named Andrew Schmit investigated Clements’ complaints. Johnson traveled to The Highlander bar to meet the young figurehead investors. “Once we saw them, we thought this is going to be a fun case to try. Sophisticated investors?” One young man, who played in a band, told him, “Wow, man, there’s got to be some lyrics in this.”
But the SEC never issued so much as a cease-and-desist order to anyone involved in Clements Golden. The grand jury, however, did indict Mintmire for obstructing the grand jury investigation into Clements Golden and conspiring to thwart the investigation of that second company investigated out of Boston.
In a two-week trial in 2005, Mintmire didn’t testify. His defense consisted of reminding jurors he wasn’t on trial for fraud. His attorney, William Richey of Palm City, said Mintmire had come clean to the SEC. “He told them very bad things, much worse than what they’re alleging” in the two counts, Richey told jurors. The “Keystone Kops” government, he said, had mistaken being a lawyer representing a client — and getting paid in stock — with obstructing justice.
Jurors didn’t buy it and neither did the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “This is not a close call,” District Judge R. David Proctor wrote for the appellate panel in November in finding there was sufficient evidence for the jury to convict Mintmire.
Mintmire, 61, is scheduled to begin serving a 21-month prison sentence this month. He was disbarred. At least some other companies he was involved with now have the taint of having been represented by a convicted felon. He declined to be interviewed for this article. His son Mark could not be reached.
Richey, the elder Mintmire’s attorney, says that at their request, the judge directed the prison system to put Mintmire into an alcohol abuse treatment program while he is serving time. “It was our position that it contributed to the problem,” he says. “I think that Don Mintmire is a wonderful person,” Richey says. “If you look at the sentencing reports on him, he’s been involved in charity very deeply his entire life both in terms of giving his time as well as his money and so has his wife. This is just a very great tragedy.”