By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Every October, Trammell Crow, the legendary Dallas real estate developer, hosts a camp-out for rich and powerful men at his East Texas farm.
Crow, now 80, invites about 150 businessmen and government leaders. His guests have included former president Gerald Ford, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, and oilman Herbert Hunt.
Sleeping in tents, the developer's high-profile guests engage in the kind of high-testosterone activities that would highlight a Boy Scout outing. They ride horses, shoot skeet, and play war games with painted faces and pellet guns. At night, the campers listen to fireside lectures on such topics as advances in cancer research. The objective, invitees are informed: simply to relax.
Describing the annual affair in a 1992 letter to John McCarthy, then U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Crow himself wrote: "There is no purpose other than building camaraderie through sharing this time in the woods."
Crow dispatched his missive to McCarthy on October 1, 1992, because he wanted the ambassador to help him secure a visa into the United States for a very special camper: Mohamed El Bukhari, the Treasury Minister of Libya--and among the closest advisers to internationally reviled dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi.
President George Bush had branded the Libyan leader "an egomaniac who would trigger World War III just to make headlines." President Ronald Reagan had sent American warplanes to drop bombs on Qadhafi in 1986. And the U.S. had imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Libya, barring trade with the country or its citizens after Qadhafi refused to extradite two Libyan intelligence agents indicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland--a terrorist incident that claimed 270 lives.
Yet Dallas millionaire Trammell Crow--for decades, a nationally prominent contributor to Republican campaigns--was seeking to pull strings so Qadhafi's aide could enjoy his hospitality and rub elbows with powerful Americans. "...I believe his joining this casual encounter could be a fruitful and pleasurable time for all campers," Crow wrote McCarthy.
El Bukhari never obtained a visa--from the American ambassador or anyone else in the State Department. Yet the Libyan made it to Crow's affair anyway.
Prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. now suspect he did so illegally, with more of the Crow family's help. They are investigating whether Crow's son-in-law, Henry Billingsley, helped smuggle the Libyan into the country by slipping him across the Mexican border near Harlingen.
Their inquiry is part of a criminal grand-jury investigation that is focusing, in part, on the Crows' dealings with Bukhari. They suspect the Dallas developer and his family did indeed hope the Libyan's trip would be "fruitful," as Trammell Crow put it--for Billingsley was then busy seeking foreign investors to buy a $200 million package of land.
Though such a deal may also have run afoul of U.S. sanctions barring business transactions with Libyans, the Crows sought to exploit their political connections on El Bukhari's behalf. At one point, Qadhafi's aide was invited to attend an intimate political reception for President Bush the Highland Park mansion of Trammell Crow's son Harlan; shocked government officials rescinded the invitation, barring the Libyan on security grounds.
For El Bukhari, the time with the Crows and their friends provided a splendid opportunity to pursue his own agenda: lobbying well-placed Americans to ease the international sanctions against his country. At the Crows' East Texas farm, documents show, El Bukhari hooked up with Robert C. McFarlane, the head of the National Security Council under President Reagan.
Qadhafi's aide showed his appreciation for the Crows' hospitality in a letter dated November 20, 1992, and obtained by the Dallas Observer. "Dear Mr. Crow," the Libyan treasury minister wrote, "On behalf of my Leader, our people and myself, I wish to express sincere thanks and appreciation for all your efforts on our behalf."
Trammell Crow declined all comment for this story. Henry Billingsley and his wife, Lucy Crow, also declined several Observer requests for comment. Bukhari could not be reached for comment.
The news that federal prosecutors are investigating secret Libyan attempts to cultivate illegal business ties with Americans was first revealed in a December 20, 1993, story in U.S. News & World Report. That article--and a second, one-paragraph item published earlier this month--briefly described the Crow-Billingsley activities and characterized them as just one part of the investigation into Libyan attempts to buy influence in the U.S.
The Crow family's discussions with the Libyan treasury minister never produced a deal. Asked about his financial relationship with Libya, Billingsley told U.S. News in 1993: "I have not done any business with that country." An attorney for Crow told the magazine "neither Trammell Crow Co. nor Trammell Crow have conducted business with Libyan nationals now or in the past."
But Washington-based federal prosecutors, with the help of a 1993 raid on Henry Billingsley's offices in downtown Dallas, have gathered more than 2,000 pages of documents. The material includes ticket stubs, personal calendars, letters, and contracts.
The Dallas Observer obtained copies of dozens of these documents from Natasha Geddie, a trained paralegal who worked as Lucy Crow's personal assistant for several months in the fall of 1992. A tip from Geddie sparked prosecutors' inquiry into the Crow family's contacts with El Bukhari.