For city Councilman Al Lipscomb, taking handouts from power brokers has become a way of life. Is there a problem?

Lipscomb was so adamant about that issue, he says, that no one could change his mind on it--not even his biggest personal benefactor, Schepps Dairy president Pete Schenkel, who was pushing 10-4-1. "Mr. Schenkel had said...that he would never ask me to take a position because it would be embarrassing to me and to would be embarrassing to both of us because I always said, 'No strings attached.'"

That doesn't mean Schenkel condoned what Lipscomb did, though. "All my stuff was definitely not kosher the way I conducted myself out there," Lipscomb said apologetically. "He would say, 'Good God, man, as hard as we try to make you legitimate, you always'--my picketing, my protesting."

Aside from the redistricting, though, Lipscomb says he's been a trooper, an advocate, a soldier. When councilman Max Wells, a banker and a conservative North Dallas Republican, served as the chair of the city's business and commerce committee from 1989 to 1992, Lipscomb continually gave Wells support. "He could rely on me," Lipscomb proudly told me that day in his living room.

So now--now that he needed these people the most--where were they?
It's not like they didn't expect him to be calling. To the contrary, Lipscomb and Hoffman hit up virtually every big-name businessman in town before Lipscomb's June 1993 departure from the city council--sometimes quite a bit before.

The two told me they paid a visit to Norman Brinker, for instance, founder and chairman of Brinker International, before the January 1993 polo-riding accident that temporary put him in a coma. A letter Lipscomb wrote to Brinker 10 months after the accident confirms this.

The letter, dated November 23, 1993, states: "Dear Mr. Brinker: It was a real joy to see and embrace you Friday nite [sic] during the gala reception honoring the opening of the African-American Museum. Mr. Brinker, before that untimely traumatic polo accident, Lipscomb Industries Inc. was about to get in the door at Brinker International, thanks to you for introducing us. As of this date, no one from Brinkers [sic] International, divisions, or affiliates has done any business with us. Mr. Norman [sic], if there is a problem with me or some of the operations managers, I need to know. I really do not want to penalize my business associate for something I have done or perceived to have done.

"Respectfully, Al Lipscomb, president, Lipscomb Industries Inc."
At the bottom of the letter, Lipscomb added a handwritten postscript: "P.S. 'a zestful Thanksgiving!'"

(Lipscomb Industries had no "operations managers." What it had was Lipscomb, Roger Hoffman, and a receptionist, who for a long time was Lipscomb's niece.)

There were lots of other impressive, one-on-one meetings that Lipscomb arranged. He and Hoffman lunched with Herb Kelleher, chairman of Southwest Airlines, at The Palm restaurant in the West End. They had an audience with William Dreyer, president of Southwestern Bell of Texas, in his office on the 37th floor of One Bell Square in downtown Dallas. They had intimate chats with Belo's Robert Decherd; Liz Minyard, co-chairman of Minyard; Kern Wildenthal, president of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. And on and on.

"We went all around town to a lot of business leaders--all the people Al knew," Hoffman once told me. "And my eyes were just lit up like a Christmas tree. I mean, who could have access to that?"

Which was, of course, the point. Access to people--and their pockets--was Lipscomb's sole contribution to the partnership. He didn't bring money of his own; he didn't have any. He didn't bring any particular expertise; he knew nothing about running a business, and even less about chemicals. "Roger knows chemicals from A to Z. He lives it; he breathes it," Lipscomb told me in October 1993. "I think it's a perfect marriage between the two of us."

Hoffman may have known chemicals, but he certainly didn't know much about running a business, either, or about making a decent living. He had started as a salesman for his dad's company, NCH, but that had lasted only a short time. Since then, he'd been hawking chemicals, mainly cleaning products, solo--buying them from manufacturers and selling them to janitorial services and anybody else who would let him in the door. In 1989, he started his own company called Merit Laboratories--an operation that consisted of Hoffman and a receptionist.

According to copies of Hoffman's 1991 and 1992 income-tax returns, which he left in a file cabinet at Lipscomb Industries when he quit the company, Hoffman reported an income of $9,600 in 1991. In 1992, the year before he teamed up with Lipscomb--he claimed he made $12,700.

Last Friday, Hoffman was charged by federal authorities with concealing his knowledge of a January 1993 kickback scheme designed to help a number of small Dallas firms--before Lipscomb Industries was created--obtain national-defense contract work. According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Hoffman participated in a meeting in which several firms agreed to offer a defense contractor a $2,500 kickback; Hoffman later withheld that information from authorities, who have since obtained a number of kickback convictions as a result of a massive, two-state investigation called Operation Cobra Nest.

Hoffman is expected to plead guilty to the felony charge on June 5, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Ewell.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help