Rolando plant

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2008

By Billy Davis

At Rolando Curtis Foods in Crenshaw, a lot has happened in two years.

More than 300 people in the little Delta town have filled out an application to work there.

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A work crew was employed there to paint, clean and repair the dilapidated building. An office staff moved in desks and computers, and started answering the phone.

Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, visited the facility on a trip through the Mississippi Delta for his “Realizing the Dream” poverty tour.

A well-attended ribbon cutting was held in the cavernous production plant, feet away from stainless steel equipment that arrived just in time to be viewed by the public.

Two years after Panola County supervisors gave away the plant and 9.8 acres, the only thing that hasn’t happened yet is that CEO Roland Butler has yet to produce a product.

Not a single bag of rice, nor a bottle of water, have been produced on the assembly line despite two years of explanations, promises, predictions and assurances from Butler.

And the phone number to the plant no longer works.

“I thank you for your vote today and look forward to a long-lasting relationship,” Butler told supervisors on July 31, 2006, after the five-man board voted unanimously to give away the county-owned property.

Butler has said he needed the property as collateral in order to finance his venture in Crenshaw.

A quitclaim deed was executed that same day by board president Robert Avant.

The industrial plant and 4.2 acres has been appraised at $757,028, a spokesman with the Panola County tax collector’s office said this week, citing the property’s true market value. The additional acreage, 5.6 acres, is appraised at $14,000.

Readers of The Panolian learned over the last year that Butler followed through on his plan to use the plant as collateral. After receiving the property, a deed of trust was recorded with the Panola county chancery clerk that showed the plant CEO borrowed $1.4 million from a Colorado company called Dill Ski Aspen LLC.

Butler said he has since paid back the loan to the company, which expected repayment six months later. The deed was recorded by the county on August 6, 2007.

The request to give Butler the plant had come from Avant, whose district includes Crenshaw. Avant’s request for the handover had come with a nothing-to-lose argument that included the desperate need for jobs in the town, where no industry presently exists, as well as the dilapidated state of the former Dana plant.

Avant and other supervisors have also said that the property swap came at no loss to taxpayers, though that’s technically not accurate. Panola County had helped Dana with a loan from the federal Economic Development Administration but was stuck with the loan when the company folded. With a lien against the property, the board of supervisors agreed – at Butler’s request – to pay off the $75,803 EDA loan.

Supervisors paid the loan in anticipation of an $86,000 insurance payment the county was set to receive for copper theft at the plant.

As Butler’s promises have come and gone, The Panolian followed with stories that included:

The federal

court judgment

The Panolian reported in February of this year that a New York City bank filed a civil suit against Maryland-based Rolando Curtis Foods for its failure to repay $82,508 of a loan for an equipment lease.

 A federal judge in Maryland rendered a default judgment against Rolando the same month that Butler appeared on the scene in Panola County, Mississippi.

Butler acknowledged in the newspaper story that the bank loan had not been repaid but said the matter did not pertain to the Mississippi plant due to state jurisdiction.

The 60-day deadline

Urged by Supervisor Kelly Morris, the Board of Supervisors agreed in March to give Butler a 60-day deadline to have Rolando Curtis Foods operating or face action by the county.

At the March 10 supervisors meeting, Supervisor Gary Thompson and Morris reported that they met and spoke with Butler during a county business trip to Washington, D.C.

Butler assured the pair of supervisors that the plant would be operational in 60 days, Morris told his colleagues, and the plant CEO made an appearance at the board meeting to assure the board that 15 employees would go to work the day after Memorial Day to ready the stainless steel equipment.

The overdue

property taxes  

The Panolian also reported in May that Butler owes past-due property taxes on the building and acreage. That amount, now at $18,004, remains unpaid and is increasing at a rate of one percent a month.

Butler said in May that he planned to pay the taxes, which remain unpaid, that month.

The no-hiring decision

in Crenshaw

Also in May, Butler said he had failed to find acceptable employees after conducting interviews in Crenshaw with help from the WIN Job Center. The search for employees would now shift to Batesville, he said.

“I’m trying to get the best,” he said. “It’s best to do the interviews in both places so you have a better selection.”

In Mississippi, secretary of state filings show Butler has started Rolando Curtis Foods MS, Inc., Rolando Curtis Foods Ms 1, LLC, and Rolando Curtis Holding, Inc.

The holding company has since been dissolved, filings show.