Cliff Berry Inc. is a Fort Lauderdale-based environmental services company that in December was convicted on two counts of grand theft and two counts of fraud for bribing folks who could help it steal jet fuel from Miami International Airport. But since a company can't do jail time, its punishment is a death sentence from local governments who might otherwise contract with it.
Cliff Berry, however, has proven itself resilient and resourceful. After the felony conviction spelled doom for its franchise to work at Port Everglades, the family-owned company slapped on a new name, Everglades Waste Removal Services, and went back to the future for its president: Cliff Berry Sr. The founder of the eponymous company, Cliff Berry Sr. had previously passed it to his son Cliff Berry II, who was in charge when the fuel theft happened. (Berry II was charged but ultimately acquitted.) With an un-retired boss and a clean legal slate, Everglades Wastewater approached the Broward County Commission, which could find no legal basis for denying the company a franchise at the Port. Here's the article I wrote on the subject in February.
But surely, for the convicted company itself, Cliff Berry Inc., the days of collecting any county's money were over. Right? Well, that depends on your definition of public money.
Technically, the contract that Cliff Berry (the company) had for hauling waste water at Miami International Airport now belongs to Port Consolidated, a Florida company that keeps seven offices in the state, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. But the company that actually tackles the costly (read: profitable) business of treating that water? According to industry sources, that's Cliff Berry.
Two weeks ago, an anonymous tipster called me to complain about this. "You've got a company that gets convicted, it's not allowed to do business with the county, but it gets to do business with the county indirectly?" he fumed.
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So I phoned Cliff Berry last week. I reached the executive vice president in the Fort Lauderdale headquarters, Larry Doyle. He said he'd heard nothing about treating wastewater from MIA but that he'd have to call the company's Miami staff to check with them. The following day he told me, "I had the guys in the plant look into it, and we went back to the last fall, but there's no record whatsoever of them (Port Consolidated) bringing wastewater from the airport to our plant."
Well, maybe I got a bum tip. So I checked with Port Consolidated. Unfortunately, the company has not returned my phone messages.
This shouldn't be so hard. Allied Aviation, the company that operates the MIA fuel farm where Port Consolidated trucks pick up the dirty fuel, would know where those trucks take it. "They take it to Cliff Berry," answered Thomas Doherty, of Allied Aviation, in a matter-of-fact tone. I asked him how sure he was of this, and he said it was possible that Port Consolidated "changed vendors in the last month," but as far as he knew the stuff has always been going to Cliff Berry.
I circled back to ask Doyle about this, but he is out of town till next week. Certainly, Cliff Berry and Port Consolidated have a history of collaboration. If the tipster and Allied Aviation are correct, then it means that Cliff Berry, which had been caught stealing from Miami-Dade County, is still profiting, if indirectly, from county contracts. A truly brilliant piece of corporate skullduggery.