I recall hearing about this guy, apparently a notorious Texas swindler, when we first moved here in the ’80s. But I never really knew the whole story of how, from a “penniless background, Billy Sol Estes built up a $40 million West Texas empire of cotton, grain, real estate and fertilizers, and then lost it all when a series of newspaper articles in 1962 revealed that many of his dealings were fraudulent.”
Ironically, there is a minute connection here to some recent scuttlebutt in Dallas real estate news: sock puppets and anonymous comments. (Maybe we do need them after all.) According to this piece in Bloomberg, by the author of a book called “The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge and a Small History of the Big Con,” the articles that undid Sol Estes were a series of four UNSIGNED (in other words, anonymous) pieces that ran in the Pecos Independent… oh and the paper also had an axe to grind:
“On Feb. 12, 1962, the Pecos Independent published the first of four unsigned articles that referred to Estes only as a “Pecosite.” They detailed a huge swindle in 11 West Texas counties. The paper’s editor, Oscar Griffin, wrote that farmers had been approached by a businessman who offered to pay a 10 percent commission if they would take out a mortgage to buy anhydrous ammonia tanks, used to store fertilizer for growing cotton on the alkalized Texas soil. The tanks would then be leased back to the businessman for the exact amount of the monthly mortgage payments.”
Apparently Sol Estes swindled those farmers, and thus began the chain:
“It was a vast swindle whereby Estes sold the mortgages that the farmers had signed to various financial companies and funneled the profits through one of his holding companies.”
Ten days after the last article appeared in March, 1962, “Estes was arrested on federal fraud charges, covering not just the tank swindle but also a complicated scheme to defraud the federal government’s grain storage program.” An interesting tidbit of Texas real estate history there in Amy Reading’s book — and now I finally know what this Sol Estes guy did. Billy Sol Estes died May 14, 2013 in his sleep.