By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Cooper's games with that money were obvious; his own divorce and bankruptcy records set the pattern: Create a company, liquidate another, shift the assets around and around like musical chairs to keep them one step ahead of the creditors.
The most obvious example of this at Mason Rich was Cooper's work with Skilldex--one of Mason Rich's fledgling clients, which Feldman specifically asked Cooper to help.
Skilldex had sold Mason Rich uncollected invoices totaling $238,000. To make it look as though Mason Rich wasn't in the hole for all that money, Cooper and Feldman converted some of the debt into a note--a loan--from Skilldex to Mason Rich. Then Skilldex sold the note to a new "company" Cooper set up called Impact Media--supposedly in exchange for Skilldex's equipment. Impact Media, whose address was Cooper's ranch, was a "company" whose president was a man named Robert C. Vaughn, Cooper's accountant and longtime running buddy, and whose registered agent was a man named Christopher Cosby--Cooper's son.
Glatstein and the other investors were sent letters stating that the Impact Media note was valid and would be repaid with interest. Then several weeks later, Feldman told Mason Rich's auditors that the note was no good and would not be paid.
The Skilldex flip is the discovery of a CPA named Jeff Baliban with the downtown firm Campos & Stratis. Glatstein's lawyers hired him to study all the documents that had been produced in the Glatstein suit. Baliban produced a lengthy sworn affidavit sketching out the Skilldex scam.
Between the Miller suit and the Glatstein suit, it's now a full-blown, mud-slinging, old-fashioned investors war. So far the only winner is the FBI. In the five years the feds have been scrutinizing Fielding, no one has handed them such a neatly typed, perfectly organized laundry list of allegations.
Last June, when Mike Bradford, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, held his shocker of a press conference, he had in his hand an impossibly complex 44-page indictment. Later I found that nearly two-thirds of the feds' case was cribbed from the civil court files for the Glatstein and Miller cases.
Specifically, the feds allege that Cooper, Fielding, and Feldman conspired to defraud Glatstein and his investors. Among other things, those three men had come up with bogus transactions to try to make it look on paper as though the company were healthier than it really was. That was conspiracy. That was mail fraud.
The Skilldex transactions were a big part of the Fielding indictment, and it's clear from the many examples of money being shifted around like so many checker pieces that a case can be made that the Glatstein investors were being ripped off. But interestingly enough, almost every example they cite involves Feldman and Cooper. It's obvious that Cooper was orchestrating and Feldman was executing. What's unknown is how much Fielding knew.
The weakest part of the indictment involves Miller Brewing Company. Much of what the feds are alleging sounds as farfetched as Fielding's theory that the downtown powerbrokers orchestrated his indictment. The feds say that Fielding and Feldman were part of the invoice manipulation that threw Mason Rich into disarray. They knew the invoices were bad while they were buying them from Raymond Jones in 1992, the feds say--it was part of a scam to defraud Glatstein and the other Mason Rich investors.
It will be interesting to see what they use for evidence, because the notion that Fielding and Feldman would have been buying receivables they knew they weren't going to get paid for is similar to alleging that they opened their office window and threw a couple hundred thousand dollars out of it. It was still their company that they had built--despite Glatstein's money--and unless Fielding and Feldman had signed some kind of suicide pact, it's pretty hard to believe they would do something so patently insane.
"My father was one of our commercial paper holders," says Fielding, bristling at the logic. "So what the feds are saying, in essence, is that I wanted to screw my father."
Even if all the allegations were true--that Fielding and Feldman and Cooper were going to bleed all the money out of the company and disappear to a tropical place--it's extremely hard to believe that the feds would pay any attention to this if Fielding were not a sitting city councilman, especially one they'd been investigating for five long years without result.
"My first reaction is the same as my last reaction," says SMU corporate and securities law professor Alan Bromberg, who has written many of the state's securities laws and is nationally recognized as an expert in the industry. The Observer asked Bromberg to review the Fielding indictment and give his opinion about the severity of the crimes for which he is charged.
"This is just an unusual thing for the feds to be involved with at a criminal level," Bromberg says. "It's pretty clear it's a dispute between shareholders in a private company--they didn't like the way the company was being run and the way the finances were being handled and reported. And normally this would be a private suit for damages and maybe a civil enforcement suit by the SEC or the state's securities board. But like the SEC, the state people don't get involved unless a big segment of the public has been defrauded. They don't focus on what is essentially a big, private investor getting skinned."