December 19, 2014

Profile: Skip Clements

Sour Grapefruits

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.

Mike Vogel | 2/1/2008

Donald & Patricia Mintmire
Purporting to help finance Clements, Donald Mintmire (leaving federal court in West Palm Beach with wife Patricia) set up a merger with an illegitimate shell company. He is scheduled to begin serving a 21-month prison sentence this month. [Photo: Palm Beach Post]
Mintmire’s comeuppance, however, isn’t enough for Clements. He wants to see others charged. From the way he talks, tops on his list is Rizzuti, the former CFO who had him evicted. In a brief telephone interview, Rizzuti says it’s been three years since any government agency has shown any interest in the case and that the statute of limitations has run out. He says he’s innocent of any wrongdoing and declined an extensive interview.

“I’m not going to engage Skip Clements ever again if I don’t have to,” Rizzuti says. “The guy’s crazier than a hoot owl. He won’t let it go. Anything he can do to show himself as the victim and keep it in front of people. A lot of people lost money on the stock. So did I. Everyone lost their ass on this deal. I’ve moved on.”

Clements, nearly seven years after he got the boot as CEO, says he can’t move on. He says he can’t get a job because his reputation and credit are ruined. He briefly worked as a teacher. An investigator suggested he try Wal-Mart. Clements lives at a friend’s house and says he can’t afford the gas to drive to nearby Miami to visit his daughter, who has leukemia. “I’m doing the right thing, and I’m paying for it,” he says.

The case has become an obsession for Clements. Johnson says that Clements expects vindication to “turn his life around and allow him to get a job. ... I think he’s overly optimistic it will change everything.”

Clements hopes that once Mintmire tastes prison, he will turn on others. He’s become a gadfly, writing letters, holding press conferences, scolding the government and then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for inaction. When Gonzales resigned in August, Clements held a press conference to take partial credit.

Clements is taken aback at the notion that the government could ignore Clements Golden to focus on larger frauds that are commonplace in south Florida. “I’m going to keep going,” he says. In fact, he adds, he’s just getting something in the mail to the new Attorney General.

Calculated play?

China never took off for anyone. China represents only 1.5% of all frozen juice exports from the United States. The latest data show no China imports of Florida oranges and rank it as only the 15th export market for grapefruit with just 10,000 cartons, compared to 4.6 million cartons for Japan, the largest market. Former Citrus Commissioner Richey says a major problem was that exporters who did ship to China had difficulty getting paid. Says the citrus league’s Bournique, “We thought it was going to be a tremendous market, but it was a flop.” The whole affair makes Johnson wonder whether the Chinese were being sincere with Clements. After all, if a country wanted to appear to be opening its market, without really doing so, would it give a permit to a major juice company or to a guy on a financial shoestring without groves or a packinghouse?

Tags: Politics & Law, Treasure Coast, Agriculture, Government/Politics & Law

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