By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Well, does Fielding want us to be his buddies and do the same thing?" Jamison asked Hodge on that phone call.
"I think he'd be willing to...get involved with it," Hodge replied.
"Well good," Jamison said.
Try as the feds might, though, they never managed to get Fielding or anybody else at the City of Dallas to commit a crime. And in 1994, when the Cobra Nest indictments were announced, Fielding was not among those charged.
But that didn't mean the federal government gave up on him. Just consider the story of one of the select few who wound up in prison for Cobra Nest.
"When the feds told my guy, 'April Fool--we're the FBI,' they told him that if he didn't tell them everything and cooperate with them, they were going to run a search warrant on his house, his brother's house, and they might put his wife in jail," says the man's defense attorney, who didn't want to be identified so he wouldn't cross swords with federal authorities. "I still have a copy of a contract they gave him that day to work as an undercover for the FBI. They wanted him to hit on Paul Fielding, because Fielding had been active in dirty politics for the City of Dallas. They explained to him that the city uses tons of paper towels, tons of soap for floors and bathrooms, and Paul Fielding is dirty, and they want him to hit on Paul Fielding."
The man got a lawyer instead.
By all rights, the miserable end of Cobra Nest in 1994 should have marked the end of the FBI's interest in Paul Fielding.
But within seven months of the Cobra Nest indictments, Fielding and his partner Sam Feldman began showing up all over the wiretapped phone conversations of an entirely separate FBI investigation that was being conducted out of a different FBI office up in Plano. And Fielding had no one but himself to blame this time.
The target of the FBI investigation was not the defense industry or Dallas City Hall. Instead, it was an individual named Gail Cooper who needed no elaborate federal fishing expedition to ferret him out. For more than 20 years, he had been the Harry Houdini for local high-flyers--now you see their assets, now you don't.
Unlike the majority of the Cobra Nest participants, Cooper was a big, fat criminal bull's eye with a lengthy, well-documented track record of slapping people around and swindling people out of their money. He was a scammer and a thug--a 57-year-old wife-beater, afternoon boozer, and all-around scagbag with a filthy mouth, a loaded pistol, and a lust for life on the ranch.
Though Cooper's great love was horse breeding--he'd made some money on it over the years--he had discovered a second, much more lucrative profession later in life. As a financial "consultant," he taught others how to live up to the motto he had lived by in his own five divorces and six or more bankruptcies--screw the creditors.
Perhaps his greatest screwing ever was that of his own wife. Deborah Cooper, a former secretary of his who bore him two children and, in return, got tossed around a lot by her drunken husband--often enough so that she kept walking when her husband locked her and their kids out of the house one night. But that was when the misery really began.
When Mrs. Cooper filed for divorce in June 1984, Cooper refused to pay her one penny in alimony or child support. When she began fighting for money in the courts, he claimed to be broke and unemployed. When she went after community property, he said the couple's 519-acre ranch--worth $1.6 million--was owned by one of his companies. When she brought up the 674 showhorses--which the bankruptcy trustee had to step in and save from starvation--Cooper claimed they were owned by still another one of his companies, both of which were in bankruptcy.
Just before Mrs. Cooper filed for divorce, her husband filed for personal bankruptcy, apparently in order to dodge a possible judgment in an unrelated civil suit--filed by a Denton waitress whom Cooper hit with a piece of broken glass before grabbing her by the hair and pushing her into a table. He was convicted for that assault and placed on 12 months' probation.
Cooper's expertise as a "consultant" and "workout specialist"--i.e. a desperate man's last resort--was in high demand in the mid-'80s when fellow high rollers were crashing and burning all over the place during the Texas oil and real estate bust. By 1986, Cooper had so much business that he recruited an entire law firm, Simpson, Dowd & Kaplan, to execute his handiwork on behalf of his clients.
To everyone else, Cooper was a scum. But to Sam Feldman, Gail Cooper was a mentor, a friend--a guru, no less.
"Sam was enamored with Gail Cooper from the day he met him," recalls one of Feldman's old friends and former real estate partners. "He just was like enamored with him--mesmerized by the guy--and everything Sam did after he met Gail, he wanted to do with Gail. It was always, 'I've got to call Gail; I've got to call Gail.' And I said, 'You know, stay away from Gail.' I was terrified of the guy because--one, I thought I would get shot and, two, it seemed that everything Gail did was under the table, and God, that just scared the shit out of me."