BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Billy Sol Estes We Are Proud of You, The Boy’s In Fertilizer You Know

They brought this elderly 70-year old into the court and some thought that they had heard the name. “What’s he being tried for?” asked a local wag. “Oh, I’m not sure, I think something about tax evasion.” Replied another onlooker. “A guy that old, still hustling on his taxes, I can’t believe that.” Replied the first. Another bystander rejoined, “Guys, that’s Billy Sol Estes, the biggest crook ever produced in West Texas and that guy don’t know how to do anything but steal.”

This case was not a major event in Estes’ life, if what his family says is true about the fact that his mind is gone, he may not even know that it happened. His lawyer pleaded insanity as a defense against the eight-count indictment on tax fraud that Estes was facing in the District Court in Brownwood, Texas. Relative to some of Billy Sol’s other exploits, this one was pretty tame. It entailed Billy and some of his cohorts starting a charity, an alcoholism halfway house, and then treating it as a for-profit company, at least as far as the partners being able to siphon funds out of the company and pocketing the money. However, this was a rather said turn of events for a man that once controlled nearly all of the cotton in the world and was the best friend of an American President.

Billy Sol, who lived in Pecos Texas, had done bigger things in his life then stealing from a halfway house charity. This can only mean that he is getting to the end of the road. Years ago, Estes was an influential cotton grower who made a fortune by using his neighbors’ acreage to grow cotton during the years when the U.S. Government was paying a fancy premium for those sorts of things. He was always politically plugged in, which certainly helped a lot when it came to getting government subsidies. However, more about that later.

The agriculture department determined that there must be something wrong with getting government money to raise cotton on some else’s land on a subsidized basis. When the inquiries started coming in droves, Estes decided that he was becoming bored with producing cotton and determined to get into a line in which he could make money without even having a product. After substantial research, he determined that this non-product would be a liquid fertilizer tank farm.

Estes and DeAngelis came upon the same sort of swindle thousands of miles from each other, almost simultaneously. Estes as opposed to DeAngelis, had always been successful and had accumulated a substantial poke, most of which came from dealings with many of his political friends in Texas who he supported with a flourish when they were running for office. Tino DeAngelis was a nickel and dime crook that was always getting into trouble with the law if for no other reason than the fact that he just didn’t have Estes’s influence with politicians. Both used tank farms to create assets that were non-existent. Both convinced sophisticated institutional suckers to throw money at their schemes. Both made a fortune in illegal activities. Both caused a substantial number of people to suffer extreme financial hardships. Both were about the same age. The difference between the two was DeAngelis made every effort to fill every one of his tanks, whether it was just with the advertised quantities or not. Estes never put anything in the tanks. He couldn’t have because in reality they didn’t exist.

Where I came from, people wouldn’t just buy a pig in a poke. Estes found people who would. His theory was that big institutions did lousy due diligence and that making the scheme work would present no problem at all. Estes went to the finance companies and told them that he had acres of tanks filled with fertilizer. If they would lend him money, he would segregate the tanks’ contents with a seal and a nameplate, permanently bearing the name of any institution that would lend based on the tanks’ contents. He offered his lenders the right to send inspectors of their choice to scrutinize the tanks without advance notice to verify Estes’ assignment of rights to them.

Many institutions considered this great collateral; Estes’ borrowed real money on the liquid fertilizer that he claimed filled his tanks. The trouble was that while a few tanks contained the liquid fertilizer, the ratio between these tanks and the empty tanks was huge. The institutions did verify their collateral’s existence. What Billy Sol knew and what they didn’t was that in West Texas, where the tanks were located, there was only one airport that could logically be used to get to his tank farm by the eastern bankers. That airport had a handful of rental car facilities, whose employees all worked on Billy Sol’s payroll as a sideline.

When an Eastern auditor showed up with a corporate credit card, they called Billy or one of his people. As soon as they could be sure that the traveler was a creditor of Billy’s, they trotted out the shiny new nameplate bearing that creditor’s name, removed the old creditor’s plate, and soldered the new one onto the tank. When the due diligence auditor came calling, naturally he found his company’s name embossed on the tank just as Mr. Estes had promised. Moreover, he found that it contained exactly what it was supposed to include.

Every inspector eventually became a sales representative for Billy Sol. They all went back and told their constituents that everything was as advertised and for the most part, this herd of industrial sheep were more than happy to have Mr. Estes tell them long distance that they had just loaded another tank with liquid fertilizer and give him a little more money.

Ultimately, Estes’ secret was revealed, and banks and finance companies all over the country went into mourning. Estes had stolen them blue. The problem in this instance had been the fact that the tanks purportedly belonged to Estes and thus, there was no independent warehouse receipt. In the DeAngelis case, victims could have had recourse against the issuer of the warehouse receipt in the form of American Express. In this case there was no third party receipt, no insurance, and the money according to Estes had just vanished into thin air.

Estes went to federal prison for these troubles and again he went to the big house in 1979 for income-tax evasion. It appears that unless his insanity plea falls upon friendly ears he will be once again going to be the guest of the government at the tender age of seventy-two more. If his buddy Lyndon Johnson knew what was still going on he would be turning over in his grave.

As a sidebar, Estes never quite knew when to let well enough alone. He gave an interview with VSD, a big French Weekly in April of 1999 in which he claimed that Lyndon Johnson ordered the assassination of Kennedy. In addition, he raises in that article a point that he did not raise in the United States when he plead insanity. That point is that he indicated that the reason for this astounding statement was the fact that he is dying of prostate cancer and wants to “set the record straight before he dies.”

He went on to say that one Cliff Carter, a crony of Johnson and Malcolm “Mack” E. Wallace were also involved with Johnson in all kinds of nefarious stuff. The story in the French magazine gets crazier and crazier so we won’t honor it with anything further except to say that Estes indicated that “He also has recording of all of his conversations with Wallace, Carter and Johnson.

After Estes got out of prison the second time, he had a message waiting from God or someone else of that sort which he was told to clear the air in no uncertain terms. Estes babbled to the world about his relationship with LBJ and a slush fund that he had personally set up for him. He went on to recount chapter and verse of murders, pillaging and other strange and bizarre experiences, which the former President was involved in. On the other hand, everyone that he was talking about had died long before and even the fact that he had told this story to a Texas Grand Jury had little effect on the world at large. This once great confidence man who caused people to sit up and take notice when he walked into a room had no become something less than an air head.

The U.S. Justice department hearing about this testimony asked Mr. Estes to visit them. Estes said that he would tell them about seven murders that Johnson was directly or indirectly involved including President Kennedy if they would give him immunity. No deal was ever reached and so we are unaware of what could or would have happened had they worked something out. It appears to us that Mr. Estes should have used the defense of insanity a little earlier in his career. This guy is certainly one strange dude.



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