Hialeah sugar firm Banah files for bankruptcy

02/26/2013 4:23 AM

02/26/2013 11:42 AM

A sugar processing company that brought hype to Hialeah after it moved into a 300,000-square-foot space last July — promising to hire up to 300 workers — has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company’s move to its new headquarters even prompted Miami-Dade County to rename a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue “Banah Sweet Way” in honor of the company. Several local leaders, including county Mayor Carlos Giménez, attended the naming ceremony.

But late last week, the company, which is owned by a convicted drug trafficker and which had sought taxpayer benefits from a government program promoting investments, left behind a line of outraged creditors. The company had only 15 employees.

Banah Sugar International Group Inc. reported that it owed between $1 million and $10 million to a list of 232 people and companies, according to public records.

The company’s administrative director, Luis Estrada, told El Nuevo Herald on Monday that the company’s owner, Alex Pérez, was meeting with company officials and added that he was not authorized to comment on the issue.

The bankruptcy was filed under Chapter 11, which allows for an attempt to reorganize the company. It allows the company’s management to continue day-to-day operations, but the bankruptcy court must make all the company’s important decisions.

On Monday, several creditors criticized Banah’s owner for failing to make payments.

“I feel frustrated and deceived,” said Alexander A. Pérez, owner of Florida Patrol Investigators (FPI), a Hialeah company that provided security services to the company. “They sent me checks that bounced, and we sued them.”

FPI’s owner said that the company owes him close to $70,000 for security services at Banah his company at 215 SE 10th Ave.

Hialeah’s mayor, Carlos Hernández, declined to comment on the sugar company’s bankruptcy filing, but he defended renaming Southeast 10th Avenue after the company, saying that Banah had promised to make significant investments in the area.

County spokesperson Fernando Figueredo said that Giménez had attended the ceremony “in good faith,” since its intention was to highlight an investment made in a 10-acre plant where 200,000 bottles of liquid sugar were supposed to be processed every day.

“The mayor knew nothing about the company’s background,” Figueredo said. “He attended because the company was creating jobs and was being recommended to be recognized in Hialeah.”

Hiram Mendoza, an aide to County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, said that in 2012 Banah requested to be included in a program to receive county and state financial incentives. He added, however, that Banah did not meet the goal of creating 300 jobs it had promised. “They have not received any financial aid from the state or the county,” Mendoza said. “It’s true that they asked for it, but they did not meet the goals.”

Last year, Banah executives announced it would hold a job fair.

On Monday, Estrada said the company never had a job fair. Currently it has 15 employees, he said.

In October, Francisco Alvarado, a New Times reporter, revealed that in 2001 the federal government had indicted Banah’s owner on felony charges of conspiracy of cocaine possession and possession with intent to sell. Two years before, DEA agents had arrested two men with six kilograms of cocaine hidden in a vehicle. The men declared under oath that Pérez, Banah’s owner, had handed them the drugs.

In 2003, Pérez pleaded guilty of one of the charges and served four years in a federal prison.

Diego Leiva, Banah’s former executive director, said he was surprised by the bankruptcy. “I left the company when Pérez’s past came to light,” said Leiva, who is among the company’s creditors. “I didn’t know anything about that.”

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