By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Feldman was first introduced to Cooper back in the mid-'80s when Feldman was looking for someone to help him unload a famous Austin motel called the Villa Capri. Back in those days, Feldman was a player--doing that '80s big high-wire act in real estate. His pudgy fingers were in a lot of huge real estate deals, he drove around town in a sky-blue Rolls Royce, and while he was shopping the Villa Capri, he was building his wife and two kids a $700,000 house off Hughes Lane in a new neighborhood for the North Dallas nouveau riche.
Feldman's Midas touch seemed to be the result of two things--he was an intensely charming and likeable fellow, if not a brilliant businessman, and he had very wealthy friends and relatives who inexplicably kept investing in his business deals. Feldman's grandfather was the late Meyer Rachofsky, a senior officer of Mercantile National Bank at Dallas, and Feldman's father owned a lot of liquor stores in South Texas. Feldman's best friend was Barry Zale, grandson of the founder of the famous Dallas-based jewelry chain. Zale got Feldman his first job working in the real estate division of Zale's. And when Feldman left there to do real estate on his own, his seed money--which he sowed extremely successfully in several raw land deals in Austin--came from his dad.
"Sam's claim to fame was who he knew," says his former friend. "He had the ability to open a lot of doors--he was smart enough to know the people who could introduce him to someone else who could introduce him to someone else. He was a consummate networker."
When the real estate market crashed, though, Feldman quickly turned out to be a fair weather friend. Court records show that, in a 1985 Arlington shopping center deal Feldman participated in with two of Barry Zale's cousins and eight other men, Feldman was the first to take a powder on the regular payments the investors were required to make to the partnership. When Feldman regularly ignored his obligation, his partners sued him for the money. Feldman's response in court papers was that he was "fraudulently induced" into signing the partnership agreement.
Says one of Feldman's partners on that deal, which eventually went into foreclosure: "I don't think very much of the gentleman. You know, if your partners blow out on you, the banks look at you for the money. I was left holding the bag with some of the others."
In no time, with so many banks and partners chasing Feldman for such big bucks--$13 million, according to the bankruptcy records--he simply threw up his hands in December 1988 and filed for personal bankruptcy. Gail Cooper and his lawyer buddies at the firm that was now called Simpson, Dowd, Kaplan & Moon handled the bankruptcy. Six months later, Feldman's wife left him and filed for divorce.
Feldman's former friends and partners--scads of them--were reeling. "So there we were with the S&Ls looking at us to pay all these debts," says Feldman's old friend, "and we just shit in our pants. What disappointed me about Sam was that--without so much as a blink--Sam just went and filed bankruptcy. It was certainly his prerogative--he didn't do anything wrong--but a lot of deals I got into because he got me involved in the deal. And I just felt like friends stick together. Sam didn't have any loyalty. I see it as a lack of character."
One person Feldman stayed absolutely loyal to was his friend and mentor Gail Cooper. "I'll bet he talked to Gail 10 times a day," Paul Fielding recalls. "He talked to him about his divorce, the business, anything that he wanted to talk about. They were best friends."
Fielding was not a part of the Cooper-Feldman crowd. But the two old school chums had stayed in touch, and when their livelihoods bottomed out in 1988, they decided to become a team.
Which means Fielding was destined to meet the fix-it man, Gail Cooper--whom Sam Feldman quickly called to the rescue in the spring of 1992 when Mason Rich plunged into financial trouble. The only solution, in Feldman's mind, was to put Gail Cooper on a monthly retainer of $5,000 and let him work on the problem. "Sam said Gail had done wonderful things with his bankruptcy," Fielding recalls. "And that's all I knew about the guy. I didn't know Gail Cooper from Adam."
It was Gail Cooper's solutions to Mason Rich's problems that appear to have caused Fielding and Cooper to be indicted and Feldman to cop a plea, and--so characteristic of him--help the feds go after his friends.
What Fielding thinks of Cooper--and the work he did for Mason Rich--is not something he will discuss for the record. He is all too aware that Cooper is, for the time being at least, his codefendant in the indictment. Unless the case against Cooper is severed from his own--which Fielding's lawyer may try to do, depending on the trial strategy he comes up with--Fielding and Cooper will be sitting together at the defense table at trial. But what Fielding thinks of Feldman is another matter.