New owners of catfish plant in Wrightsville face foreclosure

WRIGHTSVILLE — The new owners of a vacant catfish processing plant here are facing foreclosure just months after buying the site.

The plant — built more than a decade ago but never opened — is set to be sold at public auction Sept. 1 at the Johnson County Courthouse, according to a notice published in the county’s legal organ, The Johnson Journal.

New owner Warren Thomas said in April that his company, Georgia Aquaculture, expected the plant to be up and running July 13. However, there have been no noticeable changes and little activity at the property since.

Efforts during the past few weeks to contact Thomas and company general manager Johnnie Huddleston have been unsuccessful. Calls to Thomas’ phone were unanswered. Huddleston did not return phone calls.

Thomas did contact the Wrightsville newspaper after the foreclosure advertisement was first published and said the project was not dead.

“We are currently working through this process with our mortgage entity and working out the financing part,” Thomas told the paper.

Should the deal fall through, it will be the third failed attempt to open the plant.

Construction on what was to be The Fish Factory began in late 1999, but before it could open, its owner, David Rabhan, defaulted on the loan. He later was sentenced to prison on fraud charges related to the Fish Factory loan and a phony scheme to build baby food and candy factories in the African kingdom of Swaziland.

A second attempt to open the plant as a chicken-processing plant also failed.

Weeks ago, Wrightsville residents were skeptical that the plant would open.

“It’s the same (stuff) all over again,” said James Joiner.

“They’re never going to do nothing,” said Thelma Sweat. “I’ll believe it when I see it. All our plants are gone. Our sewing plants are gone. We don’t have nothing here.”

Mayor Phillip Boatwright said the twice-disappointed town has been hesitant to get too excited.

“The mood of the whole town has been suspect, to say the least,” Boatwright said. “They’re waiting to see something positive out there before they commit to anything.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.