DAVIS STATION — A trio of court filings this month seem to herald the beginning of the end for this city’s historic Rickenbaker Gin.
Mount Pleasant lawyer Kevin Campbell, the trustee in the farm transformer bankruptcy winding-up case, has asked a judge for permission to hire a real estate agent and a pair of auctioneers to sell the property of the company to the highest bidder in order to recover what will likely amount to pennies on the dollar for creditors.
Rickenbaker Gin, who served Pee Dee cotton growers for more than 75 years before a financial meltdown exposed mismanagement and potential fraud in the family business, has debts totaling more than $8 million.
Most of that money — nearly $6.5 million — is owed to the SC Department of Agriculture, which bailed out dozens of cotton and grain farmers who had hired Rickenbaker Gin to broker the sale. of their crops. The state agency has exhausted a pair of emergency funds to pay farmers and is trying to recover that money through the bankruptcy filing.
Campbell wants to hire Isle of Palms-based Harbins Two Inc. to sell the gin land and buildings. Rickenbaker Gin said he owns about $360,000 in real estate, including the gin property, a mobile home and a brick house.
“We are in the process of consolidating the debtor’s real and personal assets and obtaining approval to auction the assets,” Campbell said. “I have an excellent team appointed to conduct the auction.”
The auctioneers, if approved, would be Jackson L. Cobb & Associates of Columbia and JR Dixon Auction & Realty of Sumter.
Auction and real estate companies would split 15% of the sale proceeds plus a 10% buyer’s premium for any property sold. Another $5,000 would be set aside for marketing costs.
Campbell said he “continues to look into the financial affairs of the company” to see if any potential fraud could have taken place.
The auction reportedly follows a report by court-appointed examiner George DuRant that describes years of questionable financial dealings at Rickenbaker Gin, including high-interest undocumented loans to support operations and transfers of property that were compared to a “game of shells” as creditors began demanding their money.
Burchell “Burt” Rickenbaker, the son of late company founder Henry Rickenbaker, has been in charge of gin since 2011. DuRant, in his report, said Rickenbaker provided little help in rebuilding the company’s finances. .
Rickenbaker Gin was founded in 1945 by the late Henry Rickenbaker after he returned to tiny Davis Station from his military service in World War II. The company was recognized by the SC Legislature in 2003 for its “commitment to the cotton industry in Clarendon County”.
In 2019, the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association named Rickenbaker Young Ginner of the Year, ignoring the financial storm that was already brewing.
Contact David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_