LUBBOCK, Texas — Billie Sol Estes, a flamboyant Texas huckster who became one of the most notorious men in America in 1962 when he was accused of looting a federal crop subsidy program, has died. He was 88.
Estes, whose name became synonymous with Texas-sized schemes, greed and corruption, died in his sleep at his home in DeCordova Bend, a city about 60 miles southwest of Dallas,.
Estes reigned in the state as the king of con men for nearly 50 years. At the height of his infamy, he was immortalized in songs by Allan Sherman (in “Schticks of One and Half a Dozen of the Other”) and the Chad Mitchell Trio (in “The Ides of Texas”).
Time magazine put him on its cover, calling him “a welfare-state Ponzi ... a bundle of contradictions and paradoxes who makes Dr. Jekyll seem almost wholesome.”
“He considered dancing immoral, often delivered sermons as a Church of Christ lay preacher,” the magazine wrote. “But he ruthlessly ruined business competitors, practiced fraud and deceit on a massive scale, and even victimized Church of Christ schools that he was supposed to be helping as a fund raiser or financial adviser.”
Estes was best known for the scandal that broke out during President John F. Kennedy’s administration involving phony financial statements and non-existent fertilizer tanks. Several lower-level agriculture officials resigned, and he wound up spending several years in prison.
Estes’ name was often linked with that of fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson.
Estes was convicted in 1965 of mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, Estes was freed in 1971 after serving six years.
But new charges were brought against him in 1979, and later that year he was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to conceal assets from the Internal Revenue Service. He was sentenced to 10 more years but was freed a second time in 1983.