Blind-sided, again

Page 3 of 5

Shortly after our evening interview at his house, I asked Dudley about his ignominious past, which I had uncovered in some Bexar County court documents. Those dark days were but a distant memory, Dudley assured me.

"I was a hard-headed little guy," he told me. "Nobody could tell me. I was the second-oldest. My oldest brother went to college--I didn't; I went into the service. Had trouble in the service...started rolling downhill. When I went to jail, and I had my freedom taken from me--and I had a son 3 years old, now 23--and I put my hand on the glass window, I couldn't touch them. My family said someone would come every two weeks to be with me, and they came. From Dallas, San Antonio, Houston. The guards at Huntsville said, 'Why the hell are you here?' It kind of touched me. After you miss enough Christmases, holidays, birthdays, and you're celebrating with inmates and not families, it makes a hell of an impression on you."

Clearly, with the Lipscomb family--a family filled with incredible charmers, most particularly "Big Daddy" Al Lipscomb, who is as sweet and nice a person as you'll meet down at Dallas City Hall--it's hard to know just who's spewing how much bullshit at you.

Besides telling me about his prison conversion--"through the grace of God" he did it, he told me--Dudley told me how he and his wife, Lavette, had just closed an extremely successful physical-therapy business in Oak Cliff. "I went out on my own and did it," he told me of the June 1994 start-up of Aggressive Professional Health Services. "I got a site at Polk and Camp Wisdom. I had only a few pieces of equipment and a dream. We made it work."

Pushed a bit further on how he put together the money for such a venture--he had little experience in the physical-therapy field--Dudley admitted to having a little help. "I had investors in it to begin with," he said casually. "Boy, that did real well. They got all their money back the first year. Yeah, they were happy. In fact, they still want to do a clinic over there. I just closed it down in May. I didn't have time for it."

About the only part of that statement that's true is that Dudley was busy in May. With Hoffman gone and Lipscomb Industries a company in name only--even the phones had been shut off long before then--Dudley, as CEO of RLD Chemical Manufacturing Co., was wearing a lot of hats. He was not only learning how to mix chemicals to supply Lipscomb Industries, he had become the point man for all of his father-in-law's contracts.

When Dudley's company, RLD, set out to fill its first big Lipscomb Industries order from the Dallas Independent School District--which had awarded Lipscomb a contract to provide floor cleaning products--the Dudleys recruited every family member and every down-and-outer from the downtown labor pools to chip in and get the product mixed and bottled. (The Dudleys hired a man to supervise the crew, who purports to be a chemist but wouldn't give me his qualifications, though I heard his background is in hair-care products.)

"I had everyone working around the clock, trying to get the order out," Dudley told me. "People slept in trucks, kids slept on the floor out at the plant--'round the clock. We had people from the labor pool come out and work 10 to 12 hours, then bring another shift in. I worked two days straight myself."

Although DISD officials certainly had no way of knowing that Al Lipscomb's son-in-law was using homeless people to make the district's floor wax in used milk tanks, they were able to figure out pretty quickly that the stuff wasn't any good.

Not long after delivery, DISD shot off a letter to Lipscomb, notifying him that 48,720 gallons of disinfectant did not meet specifications and were being summarily rejected by the school district, which wanted all of it picked up immediately. Lipscomb never picked up the disinfectant, and DISD has since canceled the contract for all his products, says DISD attorney Rebecca Zuniga.

Because of DISD's problem, another Lipscomb Industries customer, Dallas County, decided to test the products, too. When the floor wax came up short, the county froze any payments to the company and demanded that Lipscomb fix the problem. "We stopped payment to Lipscomb Industries on all the money we owed him and at one point we were holding more money of his than he had of ours," says Dallas County administrator Allen Clemson.

The problem has since been rectified--but not because the Lipscomb family chemists suddenly learned how to mix janitorial supplies.

Instead, one of Lipscomb Industries' frustrated creditors in the bankruptcy case, Imperial Industries, saw RLD's failure to fill orders properly as Imperial's only chance at recouping some of its money. As a result, Dallas County now gets its floor products directly from Imperial--a Dallas-based company owned by two guys who do actually make chemicals. At the insistence of Imperial, which is not about to be burned twice, Dallas County sends the checks directly to Imperial--though middleman Lipscomb does have to sign off on them--and for the most part, Lipscomb is no longer involved with his customer.

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Laura Miller