Billie Sol Estes was Texas swindler extraordinaire
Billie Sol Estes, a fast-talking Texas swindler who made millions, went to prison and captivated America for years with mind-boggling agricultural scams, payoffs to politicians and bizarre tales of covered-up killings and White House conspiracies, was found dead Tuesday at his home in Granbury, Texas. He was 88.
The rise and fall of Billie Sol Estes was one of the sensations of the postwar era: the saga of a good-ol’-boy con man who created a $150 million empire of real and illusory farming enterprises that capitalized on his contacts in Washington and the gullibility and greed of farmers, banks and agriculture businesses.
He was a Bible-thumping preacher who gave barbecues for governors and senators, rode his bike to work in Pecos, Texas, and his airplane to Washington, and was named one of America’s 10 outstanding young men of 1953 by the U.S. Jaycees.
As his empire crumbled in 1962, Estes’ notoriety might have been passing had it not been for the bodies that kept cropping up, for the bribery scandals and fraud in federal farm programs, and for Estes’ own lurid accounts.
In 1963, Estes was convicted on federal charges and sentenced to 15 years. A state conviction was overturned on grounds of prejudicial news coverage. After exhausting appeals and serving six years, he was paroled in 1971. In 1979, he was convicted of tax fraud and served four more years.
new york times