Should Paul Fielding go to jail?

He's violated the public trust and betrayed his own ethical standards. But is Dallas' perpetually annoying councilman guilty of fraud, perjury, and extortion?

But you would be wrong.
Fielding and Feldman have strikingly similar, equally unsuccessful track records when it comes to business and earning a living. Although Fielding claims to have made "a very significant amount of money" in the boom years of the Dallas real estate market, he declines to reveal his best annual income from those days.

In any case, a few years later, Fielding joined the ranks of the walking dead in real estate. Just as he won't reveal the money he made when he was up, Fielding won't say how much he lost when he was down.

"I can show you a demand letter from NCNB for $8 million--and this was one deal," Fielding says coyly. "It busted me, OK? It cost me everything. In retrospect, I probably should have done what everyone else did--buy a big house, pay cash for it, do all the things one could do in a bankruptcy that are legal to avoid the creditors. But that wasn't the way I was raised. If you borrow, you pay it back. I settled and paid back everyone I owed money to. And I put what was left into Mason Rich."

Courthouse records do show only two outstanding debts for Fielding: One is a $92,464 outstanding judgment against Fielding for legal fees incurred by DART in its successful defense of a lawsuit Fielding personally filed against the transit agency to protest former director Charles Anderson's severance package.

The other debt is a $25,000 personal loan that Fielding's father, Don Fielding, made to him in December 1993 so that Fielding and Feldman could hire attorney Chuck Meadows to go talk to the feds. The collateral for the loan is Fielding's $219,000 North Dallas duplex.

Fielding's initial investment in Mason Rich in 1988--all the money he had in life--was $50,000, he says. Feldman invested no money, Fielding says, but took a significantly higher percentage of stock and the title of president to Paul's vice-president. Fielding didn't begrudge him that. After all, Feldman was the one who came up with the idea of forming the company; he had executed the concept and recruited most of the original investors.

Eight years later, Fielding concedes he's as broke as ever. He's not working, and the quality of his legal defense relies solely on his father's generosity. (Fielding's grandfather founded the successful National Shoes stores, which Don Fielding still owns and operates.)

Although Fielding refuses to disclose what his annual salary was at Mason Rich these last eight years--"it's just not the general public's business," he says--according to a 1990 company tax return filed in a legal case, Fielding earned a salary of $42,000, and Feldman earned $62,000. Five years later, according to a copy of a Feldman deposition taken in the same lawsuit, Fielding was at $52,000--Feldman at $86,000.

Clearly, Fielding and Feldman did not have the resources or the business experience to fight Miller Brewing and David Glatstein at the same time. They were desperate men in a desperate situation--and there was only one solution for that in Feldman's mind. He turned to his mentor, Gail Cooper.

"I could never figure out who this guy was, or why he suddenly seemed to be running the company," says Glatstein of Gail Cooper, who began running Mason Rich board meetings. "And the more we asked why, the less we'd find out."

Under Cooper's tutelage, bizarre hide-and-seek games began happening with the finances of the company--none of which would have been detected except that Glatstein finally hauled off and hired two lawyers--the husband-wife team of Michelle Roberts and Jonathan Smaby--to go to court and demand that Mason Rich turn over its books. Since the Miller problem had first surfaced, Glatstein had been demanding to see Mason Rich's corporate records--at the very least, he was supposed to be getting financial statements on a regular basis. Feldman and Fielding refused to do so; only a couple of financial statements were sent, according to court records. Fielding resented that Glatstein was trying to get involved in the day-to-day financials and run the company.

"If he doesn't like the way a company is being run, or he doesn't like the return on his investment, he simply destroys it," Fielding says. "That's what he does--destroys companies. If we had started letting him get involved in the day-to-day business, it would have been a disaster."

Instead, they let Cooper run things. Which also led to disaster.
Gail Cooper's previous disasters had been covered by only one media outlet, the Dallas Business Journal. Now, David Welch at the Journal would be the only paper to write about Cooper and his latest client, Mason Rich.

The rest of the media, including the Observer, didn't see the significance of the story--didn't see how a shareholder dispute had much to do with Fielding's role as a city councilman.

But the hypocrisy issue should have been impossible to miss. The city's fanatical fiscal conservative with the big stick about openness and honesty was neither open, prudent, nor honest with his own shareholders and their money--people, no matter what you thought of their style or temperament, to whom Fielding clearly had a fiduciary responsibility. While Fielding would be the first to tell you that a person shouldn't borrow money and be irresponsible with it, that was exactly what was happening with the Glatstein investors' money.

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