By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The documents provided to the Observer--combined with more than two dozen interviews--detail the Crows' extensive efforts to use their high-level political contacts to aid Muammar al-Qadhafi's government.
They also detail Billingsley's efforts to hawk $200 million worth of undeveloped land to foreign investors.
Together, they provide a startling and bizarre tale of international intrigue--complete with a mysterious border crossing, murky go-betweens, and multimillion dollar dealmaking.
It is a story that reveals how--and suggests why--members of a mythic Texas family befriended one of America's greatest enemies.
At the center of the strange tale of the Crow-Qadhafi connection is 51-year-old Henry Mac Billingsley, a confident Dallas businessman married to Trammell Crow's only daughter.
Friends and business associates say the enigmatic Billingsley has always relished the sheer drama and mystery of daring, high-stakes dealmaking.
"Henry intellectually likes to cross swords," says Randy Dumas, a London investment banker who Billingsley asked to help find wealthy Arab buyers for Texas land.
"I could see him getting involved with anybody," says Charles Dyer, a close Billingsley friend since graduate school, who now runs his own money-management firm in Boston. Of Billingsley's alleged dealing with Libyans, Dyer adds: "I don't consider it shocking. All kinds of people come into this country and buy anything. Henry didn't sell the Libyans anything. So what's the problem?"
While Billingsley and the Crows completed no deals with the Libyans, that alone does not take them off the hook. U.S. sanctions prohibit most travel to Libya, any contracts with Libyan nationals, and all business transactions in which the Libyan government has an interest. In fact, the sanctions bar almost any contact with Libyans at all--unless the ties are reported to U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
A tall man with angular features, Billingsley was born in Galveston but reared in a middle-class neighborhood in San Diego, California. He graduated from Stanford University in 1965 and went on to earn his MBA at Harvard in 1968. After a stint at Fidelity Investments, then an up-and-coming Boston money-management firm, Billingsley arrived at the Trammell Crow Company in the mid-'70s.
At prestigious business schools, Trammell Crow Company was known as a ticket to the good life. Crow headed America's biggest development company; he had a reputation for generously backing talented young partners in multimillion dollar deals. At one point, Crow had more than 170 partners.
The Trammell Crow Company had a system. Young MBAs--like Billingsley, almost all white, politically conservative men--worked for a relative pittance at first, leasing commercial space. But if they measured up, they could expect to become millionaire partners within a few years, as they began acquiring a piece of the action for themselves in the Dallas developer's fast-growing international empire.
Crow Company peers recall that Billingsley set himself apart from the beginning by dressing and acting like a partner. While the other MBAs scoured off-price clothing stores, Billingsley sported Savile Row suits and Hermes ties. He lived in a rented North Dallas apartment filled with clutter, but always kept a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne in the refrigerator.
Billingsley held strong opinions--and offered them freely. "Henry has a dry, biting intelligence and wit," says Dumas, the London investment banker. Adds a former Trammell Crow partner: "He's really funny at other people's expense."
Billingsley also offended some colleagues with his comments about ethnic groups. One former Crow Company partner recalls Billingsley often used the term "Hebraic chieftain" to describe Jewish businessmen. Billingsley's calendars, messages, and telephone books reflect his heavy use of more benign nicknames. He has friends and associates whom he refers to as "Boom-boom," the "Paymaster," and "Big Mac." "He does have nicknames for everybody," says London investment banker Dumas. "I cringe to think of what he calls me."
But the most significant moniker in Billingsley's office appeared on the outside of an envelope containing a copy of the diplomatic passport of Mohamed El Bukhari; there, someone had scrawled the words "Big Mo." This apparent nickname for the Libyan treasury minister also appears in Billingsley's personal appointment book.
Dyer dismisses the critical comments former colleagues offer about Billingsley. "Henry was smarter than anyone else there," Dyer says. "The others were probably just jealous. They didn't really know him."
It didn't help that Billingsley seemed too intent on the big score to apply himself to the mundane aspects of real estate. Former partners say he never distinguished himself as a successful leasing agent--the usual first step in a new MBA's rise to partner. "He'd wear out the yellow pages but never do any deals," recalls one colleague. "He had the ability to make a billion-dollar deal, but could not sign a 10,000-square-foot lease."
It was in the mid-1970s when Henry Billingsley first revealed his specialty: The Big Deal. That's when he assembled a group of investors to develop the Elk Grove Industrial Park, a property near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. "It is what put Henry on the playing field," recalls one former Trammell Crow partner.
At the time, the Crow Company was weathering a major real estate recession. Lending institutions nationwide were threatening Crow projects with foreclosure. Billingsley, though still a Crow associate, began promoting the Elk Grove deal on his own--without the approval of a senior partner.