Billy Sol Estes we’re proud of ya son.
Hey! Billy-Billy, Hey! Billy-Billy, Billy.
Ya had to be Texan to do what you done.
Hey! Billy-Billy, Hey! Billy-Billy Sol.
While other kids saved up their nickels and dimes
For ice cream, candy, and fudge.
Well Billy saved too and when he had enough,
He bought him a fed-er-al judge.
(“The Ballad of Billy Sol Estes” by Phil Ochs)
Face it friends, they just don’t make scandals like they used to.
For all of Bill Clinton’s antics in the oval office as well as his, shall we say, questionable business practices (wish I could deduct $25,000 in interest on a loan I never paid back), his kind of scandalizing was pretty routine; a little venality here, a little immorality there. In the end, it proved hardly enough to inspire a great folk artist like Phil Ochs to write a song in homage to the sheer brazenness and utter amorality of his rather mundane adventures.
No, Ochs needed scandalizing of truly titanic proportions. And in the last 100 years, there is only one man in or out of government that can claim the mantle of scandal magnet extraordinaire. That man was Billy Sol Estes.
Estes’s scandalizing wasn’t just shockingly corrupt. It was sublime in its evil excesses. Stealing, influence peddling, bribery, and even murder was connected to Estes and his cotton schemes. Using his influence gleaned from being a friend of Vice President Lyndon Johnson (how close a friend is debated to this day) Billy Sol Estes swaggered around Washington like a Texas Don, a cowboy mafioso who, the evidence tells us, bought at least 3 Department of Agriculture employees – perhaps even the Secretary at that time Orville Freeman – as well as throwing his weight around on the hill.
In the late 1950s the US Department of Agriculture began controlling the price of cotton, specifying quotas to farmers. This limited overall production and Estes’ businesses suffered. He responded by expanding into cotton production himself. Over the next few years he developed a massive fraud, claiming to grow and store cotton that never existed, then using the cotton as collateral for bank loans. During this same period he became involved in Texas state politics and made political contributions to US senator and later Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
On June 3, 1961, Estes’ local contact at the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, Henry Marshall, was found dead in his car (reportedly with five gunshot wounds) on a remote part of his own ranch. Attributing Marshall’s death to carbon monoxide poisoning brought about from a hose attached to the exhaust pipe of his car, local Justice of the Peace Lee Farmer ruled Marshall had killed himself and the body was buried without an autopsy. The suicide verdict was later overturned.
On April 4, 1962 Estes’ accountant, George Krutilek, was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Krutilek had been questioned by the FBI about Estes the day before.
As a result of these deaths and an investigation into his business practices, on April 5, 1962 Estes and several business associates were indicted by a federal grand jury on 57 counts of fraud. Estes was accused of swindling many investors, banks and the federal government out of at least twenty-four million dollars through false agricultural subsidy claims on cotton production and the use of non-existent supplies of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer as collateral for loans. Two of Estes’ associates, Harold Orr and Coleman Wade, were also indicted but died of carbon monoxide poisoning (apparent suicides) before they went to trial. Estes was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to eight years in prison. He was eventually found guilty of additional federal charges and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
Although never accused of killing anybody, it is rather strange that Ole Billy seemed to leave a trail of dead bodies from Texas to Washington.
Bill Sol was also rumored to have set up a “love nest” where Congressmen could come and relax, have their pick of some truly exotic beauties (including an East German spy that President Kennedy eventually dallied with), probably enjoying a little Texas barbecue washed down with copious amounts of bourbon and branch.
Evidently, no one could throw a party like Billy Sol.
I bring the adventures of Billy Sol Estes up because the corruption scandal involving disgraced Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham has taken a bizarre turn as the FBI is now apparently investigating “hospitality suites” set up at the Watergate Hotel by Cunningham accomplices, all the better to “entertain” Congressmen and their staffs. Indications are that the “entertainment” included prostitutes and could extend back 15 years, involving dozens of Congressmen.
I daresay that the spate of revelations in this matter has several members sweating, perhaps even leading to some belated apologia to their wives. The fact is, there have been rumors of several such operations around Washington for years. If true, I would think that others (if there are any others) would shut down pronto.
My understanding when I worked around the Hill was that lobbyists would rarely offer such “perks” to members in Washington. Rather, such offerings were made on junkets and other trips like speaking engagements and the like. The reason is becoming obvious to Mr. Cunningham’s associates; the chances of keeping a secret in Washington is directly proportionate to how juicy the information is and what the potential is for getting back at your enemies.
The news that Porter Goss may be caught up in this sex sting is both interesting and not surprising. Goss is rattling a lot of cages at the CIA, not to mention carrying out an aggressive campaign against leakers.
Now before you lefties have a knipshit, I have every reason to believe any investigation of Goss is probably genuine. What I question is the speculation regarding his “activities” being leaked at this time. Pretty damned convenient, no? In fact, if I were the suspicious sort, I’d mention that it’s damned peculiar timing and that the hint regarding his involvement (“including one person who now holds a powerful intelligence post”) seems to be the only mention of someone specific being investigated in the whole operation.
Even Tim at Balloon Juice points to a possible alternative name; Goss’s #3 at the Agency:
Porter Goss inexplicably chose Kyle â€œDustyâ€ Foggo, a close friend and business associate of MZMâ€™s Brent Wilkes, as his #3 man in CIA with a portfolio including appropriations. That seems like quite a boon for a firm whose niche consisted of inappropriately influencing lawmakers towards awarding it black defense- and intelligence-related contracts. Where did Goss meet Foggo? The shortest path between the two passes through MZMâ€™s Watergate bacchanialiae.
Sorry Tim, I’m not drinking that much kool-aid. Foggo oversaw CIA contracts in Iraq which is no small potatoes. It’s no more a surprise regarding Foggo’s upward mobility at the CIA than Mary McCarthy’s meteoric rise from analyst to NIO. Politics seems to trump smarts at the CIA even under Goss which is disappointing but hardly earthshattering news. And the fact that the CIA IG has been investigating Foggo and his ties to the dirty contractors since early March would seem to indicate that he is the target mentioned in the article not Goss.
If this scandal pans out, it should prove to be pretty sordid but hardly the stuff of legend. For that, we would need to resurrect the memory of old Billy Sol Estes and his Texas sized malfeasance. To date, we’re not even close on this one.