At a January ground-breaking for Mississippi Silicon’s new production facility, Ricardo Vicintin, President and CEO of Rima Industrial, said “Rima considered many locations around the world for the new facility and we greatly appreciate the support and enthusiasm shown by the citizens and government leaders in Mississippi.” In getting $25 million in exchange for creating 200 jobs, perhaps Vicintin should have been appreciative.
We know this to be true: Rima Industrial had already shopped numerous sites across the United States and elsewhere looking for the best deal they could get. Also known to be true is that Vicintin is an indicted felon in Brazil, has a racketeering charge pending in federal court, and has been sued for attempting to evade US anti-dumping laws by importing silicon metal from Brazil to the United States at unfairly low prices.
What was not known previously was that the entire deal seems to have come together all around a secretive junket to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. We cannot confirm whether Governor Phil Bryant enjoyed long strolls along Copacabana beach or with whom he met with on the trip. The Mississippi Development Authority, which paid for the trip with a combination of taxpayer money and corporate cash, refuses to release the details.
Not long after Phil Bryant returned tanned and rested last year, a bevy of corporate filings related to the new Tishomingo County industrial endeavor cropped up. Interestingly, Mississippi Silicon Holdings LLC, which is owned almost entirely by Rima Industrial, didn’t even exist until just weeks before the junket.
In fact, none of the company’s affiliated corporations came into existence until after the Mississippi trade delegation’s September 2013 trip to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And the primary owner of the project, Rima Industrial S/A of Brazil, wasn’t announced until three months after the trip during a press conference headed by Phil Bryant.
Details of the Brazil trip, arranged by the Mississippi Development Authority, are a closely held secret. MDA officials said it was set up to bring together Mississippi companies wanting to expand trade and create new business relationships with their South American counterparts.
MDA Executive Director Brent Christensen, along with directors of the Gulfport and Pascagoula port authorities, accompanied Phil Bryant. The MDA’s website and newspaper accounts indicate Phil Bryant’s expenses were not paid by taxpayers but fail to identify who contributed the “private money” that paid for his trip.
Business representatives who participated in the trip – none were identified by the MDA – were offered financial incentives through the U.S. Small Business Administration-funded Mississippi State Trade Export Promotion program to offset costs of the trip, according to an MDA press release. Up to 50 percent of their travel expenses were paid by the program.
All of these points lead us to a few lingering questions such as who are these private business interests that paid for the trip and what did they get in return? Additionally, how did an entire corporation go from non-existent to getting $25 million in state funding in a few weeks?
The common denominator to these questions might be John Correnti.
According to public records, Mississippi Silicon is an 80-20 joint venture owned by Rima Holdings USA, a subsidiary of Rima Industrial, and Clean Tech I LLC, headed by Correnti.
Correnti is known in Mississippi for having a history of making promises he doesn’t tend to keep. This includes proposals – with offers of substantial government funding – to build steel and silicon plants in Amory and Lowndes County.
The MDA is currently on the hook to reimburse Lowndes County for expenses incurred in Corretti’s failed effort to build a plant there two year ago.
In addition to private funding, the Mississippi Silicon project is set to benefit from a $3.5 million MDA loan to Tishomingo County, plus another $21 million in MDA loans and grants for infrastructure improvements and job training. The Appalachian Development Authority has approved $300,000 for site improvements. The Tennessee Valley Authority is providing a $1.5 million loan and a $425,000 grant for the project.