By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
His key contact: Chuck Dyer, an old chum from Harvard Business School. A former pilot for Eastern Airlines, Dyer managed the pilots union's hefty pension fund at Hawthorne Associates, his own Boston money-management company.
Billingsley, officially assigned the unglamorous task of leasing industrial space, paid his own expenses for trips to Chicago to work on the Elk Grove deal. When peers warned him that his free-lancing could irk senior partners, one former Crow partner recalls, Billingsley responded: "I don't care what they say--their names are not on the door."
The gamble paid off. Trammell Crow personally took a shine to Billingsley's proposal for Elk Grove--and backed it. Elk Grove provided a critical boost to the company; it showed a large institutional lender was willing to back a Crow project despite the developer's recent woes. Nicely profitable in the years since, Elk Grove ultimately became a 35-building, 4-million-square-foot project, drawing such blue-chip tenants as National Can Corporation, Searle Pharmaceuticals, and JC Penney, Inc.
In 1978, Billingsley scored an even bigger coup: marrying the boss' only daughter. At the time, Lucy, 25, was the mother of a newborn and a recent divorcee; her first marriage had lasted less than two years. Henry was one MBA among dozens aspiring to become a Trammell Crow partner.
There were profound and nearly immediate business consequences stemming from the pairing of Henry Billingsley and Lucy Crow. For Billingsley, the marriage meant his ouster from the Trammell Crow Company.
Senior partners seized the opportunity to formalize a longstanding, but selectively enforced, nepotism rule barring family members without the Crow name--and boot Billingsley. Trammell Crow relented in the ouster of his new son-in-law. Crow, however, remained in some separate partnerships with Billingsley--including the one that owned Elk Grove. Fifteen years later, Billingsley's treatment remains a sore point with his friends. Says Dyer: "Henry has done much better than all those guys who kicked him out after he married Lucy."
The marriage also fundamentally rearranged the assets of the Crow family. In the next few years, Lucy separated her assets from those of the rest of the family. She continued to share ownership in many properties with her father and brothers, but her stake was broken out, and she managed her assets separately. In 1980, Billingsley and his wife set up the Crow-Billingsley Investment Company.
Out on his own, Billingsley followed a real-estate acquisition strategy that ultimately led him to Arab investors. He acquired cheap, undeveloped land around Dallas, through partnerships and joint ventures, often with overseas investors. He held them until development began moving in that direction, hoping to sell at a big profit.
But there was a problem: the real estate recession in the late 1980s stalled development in every direction. It looked like prices would never rise enough for Billingsley to make a profit, much less a killing, unless he found a very special kind of buyer--one willing, for special reasons, to pay more than the market demanded.
By the summer of 1992, Henry Billingsley was sitting on vacant Dallas land. He had holdings in the city, as well as valuable acreage near Legacy Park in Plano.
About that time, his company produced a marketing folder for perhaps the most prestigious parcel in his North Texas portfolio: a 10.5-acre tract along Woodall Rodgers Freeway, near the new Federal Reserve Building. "Tremendous visibility and the recognition of the north side of the Dallas skyline," the pamphlet declares. At one point, Billingsley was pricing a 50 percent interest in the property at $51 million.
Billingsley clearly wanted to unload some of his holdings. Between June and September 1992, he corresponded with investment bankers based in London, making regular trips there, seeking contacts with prospective buyers in the Arab world--men who might have more money than they knew what to do with. Perry Lloyd, a London investment banker, recalls that Billingsley was specifically marketing both Dallas and Chicago property.
Dumas, another London banker, also knew Billingsley wanted to sell property. In a September 21, 1992 letter, after returning from a trip to the Middle East in which he had pitched the Texan's land, he offered Billingsley some encouragement. "I met last week with an interesting cross-section of (primarily) high net worth investors (guys like you, big fella)," Dumas wrote. "...Somewhat to my surprise, my Sultan of Brunei contact...said he found the idea fairly attractive." Nothing came of the prospect; in March, Dumas wrote to bemoan that the Sultan and Henry still had not been able to meet.
Other bankers and financial advisors, documents show, were also seeking buyers for Billingsley's land. The network of middlemen included a longtime New York friend then running his own financial consulting firm: A. William Bodine.
A one-time director of investment research at Citicorp Management Inc. and J.P. Morgan Equities, Bodine had founded his own firm, the Investment Advisory Group (IAG), in the late 1980s. Throughout his career, he had cultivated contacts overseas--especially in the Arab world.
Bodine would serve as the key go-between in the contacts between Libya and the Crow family.
Billingsley had been using Bodine to help market his Dallas land since 1990. Documents obtained by the Observer also show Bodine had contractual ties to the Libyan government.