Blind-sided, again

Last Saturday, Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb was having one of those moments--and he's had plenty this year--when he seemed flummoxed, flabbergasted, bewildered, and befuddled about the sensitive subject at hand.

"This broadsided me, this one did," he said uncomfortably. "It surely did."
He was, he said, very sad about this latest turn of events--specifically, that his son-in-law and business associate, Roderick Dudley, had just been indicted by a Dallas County grand jury for felony theft.

Dudley was charged with stealing more than $100,000 from the county coffers through a check scam that he and an employee of the Dallas County Clerk's Office had been running for the past 2 1/2 years or longer.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office for weeks has been poring over dozens of canceled checks. Carol Jackson, the county employee, had been issuing checks to Dudley on a regular basis--none of which he was entitled to and all of which he endorsed and then either cashed or deposited in one of his bank accounts.

If there ever was a good, solid paper trail to prove a crime, this would appear to be it.

"He told me that it's defensible," Lipscomb said. "And, you know, I said, 'I don't even want to get involved.' I just hope it is defensible."

Not wanting to get involved in anything scandalous has been a strong--if unsuccessful--theme for Lipscomb in 1996.

In January, Lipscomb's business partner, Roger Hoffman, abruptly resigned from his and Lipscomb's chemical distribution company, Lipscomb Industries, which the two had managed to bleed on a regular basis, leaving a host of angry creditors in their wake.

In March, two of those creditors filed a petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Dallas to force Lipscomb Industries--by then a shell of a company with no office, no employees, and no assets--into bankruptcy. In the process, they hoped to recover what they could of the $127,000 they were owed. As far as Lipscomb was concerned, he told the press at the time, it was all Hoffman's fault.

In May, former Lipscomb partner Hoffman was indicted--and then quickly pleaded guilty to--federal bribery charges in connection with a kickback scheme he'd been linked to involving a national defense contract. (The bribery incident took place just before the two men went into business together and was unrelated to Hoffman's involvement in Lipscomb Industries.)

A week after Hoffman's indictment, the Dallas Observer published a long, detailed story ("Clueless," May 30) about Lipscomb Industries--a so-called "disadvantaged minority-owned business"--and its well-known owner, who had started the business in 1993 as a result of being forced to retire from the city council because of the city's term-limitation provision.

In reality, Lipscomb "Industries" was never anything more than a white guy, a black guy, and a blue-ribbon address book. Hoffman had chemical expertise, and he did all the work. Lipscomb's contribution to the partnership was his connections and his unswerving belief that the city's biggest Anglo power brokers--some of whom had given him cash handouts over the years to keep him and his wife, Lovie, afloat while he served on the council--now owed him a livelihood in the private sector in gratitude for his nine years of unquestioned political support. True to form, Lipscomb's benefactors dutifully loaned Lipscomb and Hoffman the $60,000 to start up Lipscomb Industries, and promised to order enough chemicals--mostly janitorial supplies--to keep the company going.

Despite the handouts--and despite these two guys, who were nothing more than middlemen, having little overhead beyond rent and phones--Lipscomb and Hoffman managed to screw up a sweet deal. For three years, they ignored their bills, thumbed their noses at their creditors, and depleted the company checkbook, writing checks to themselves and their family members. Hoffman was especially shameless, writing dozens of checks to his barber, boot maker, and landscaper, among many others.

At one point, just a few weeks before Lipscomb was sworn in last June as a returning council member, Dallas city employees, including the city attorney were chasing Lipscomb around, trying to get him to pay long-overdue utility bills and back rent for his company office, located in a city-owned building.

Then, as soon as Lipscomb was again sworn in as a council member, he began voting--in his capacity as a public servant, beholden to uphold the public trust--in support of dozens of zoning changes, license renewals, and tax abatements on behalf of his chemical-business clients. He never once revealed his blatant conflict of interest or recused himself from voting.

Worse, when the Observer article ran--specifically pointing out, among other things, the 33 votes Lipscomb should not have participated in--Lipscomb still didn't see a problem.

Now, three months later, Lipscomb once again is trying to distance himself from controversy--to play the naive victim of people who would take advantage of his good name. This time, he'll find it harder to do.