The media sometimes call them the "Sugar Barons."
They're accused of polluting the Everglades and faulted for making big contributions to politicians and using their clout to get favorable treatment for the sugar industry.
But Alfonso Fanjul Jr., 65, and his brother José "Pepe" Fanjul, 58, the most visible members of the Palm Beach-based Fanjul family, are philosophical about these criticisms.
"If you have a large, high-profile company, as well as a family business, you have to take the good with the bad," Pepe said.
"We're very proud we've been able to grow a successful business that creates quality employment, to create a national and international business with its headquarters in South Florida," Alfonso added.
But critics and supporters would agree: The Fanjul family, which moved to Palm Beach County after Cuba's 1959 revolution, has become an influential factor in U.S. business, political and civic circles on a national scope and in Palm Beach County.
Alfonso and Pepe head Florida Crystals Corp., one of the country's largest sugar cane growers and refiners, employing about 3,000 locally, and a holding company called Flo-Sun Inc.
The family also holds a majority interest in three other sugar refineries in the United States and owns companies employing about 20,000 people in the Dominican Republic.
In community affairs Alfonso and Pepe also play a significant role.
They and their sister, Lillian, are founding members of New Hope Charities, established in 1988, which provides comprehensive health and educational services to low-income families in Pahokee and the surrounding area. They have donated about $1.5 million to the organization over the past seven years.
Alfonso and Pepe also have given close to $1 million to the United Way of Palm Beach County. The brothers and other family members also contribute to a variety of other charities as individuals and through the family's companies, help raise funds, serve as board members of educational and charitable organizations and encourage executives at Florida Crystals to do the same.
Florida has three major sugar producers and scores of independent sugar cane farmers, but the Fanjuls, whose company has invested heavily to improve air and water quality and is helping pay for an Everglades cleanup, seem to be easy targets.
They're rich, own a major sugar company, make big political contributions and have access to political figures -- like presidents -- that most Americans don't. Indeed, many Americans heard of the Fanjul name for the first time in 1998, when independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr said in his report on President Clinton that Alfonso Fanjul had called the president on Feb. 19, 1996, when Monica Lewinsky apparently was in the Oval Office. Clinton later returned the call and spoke to Fanjul for 22 minutes, the report said.
Alfonso, who supports the Democratic Party, and Pepe, who backs Republicans, have been large contributors to the parties and candidates on local, state and national levels since 1979, both personally and through their companies.
For example, the Fanjul sugar companies donated more than $1.2 million in "soft" money to both parties since the 1998 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"When we came to this country we decided it was important to support people whose views we agreed with," said Pepe. "Being of Cuban origin, we saw that not getting involved in politics resulted in a series of bad governments there."
Local political leaders say that while the Fanjuls and their enterprise are important contributors to local, state and national candidates, they don't get involved in local political decisions.
One exception occurred in the early 1990s, when the brothers donated land on each side of U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County so that a dangerous stretch of highway could be widened from two lanes to four.
Like the other South Florida sugar producers, they lobby at the national level to maintain price supports and to limit imports of cheap foreign sugar.
"The Fanjuls are very engaged in politics. They have to be they're businessmen," said Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach. "They're like FPL and a lot of other companies they're all engaged in politics."
Joseph Mann can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4665.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times