And it was the
result of that one attribute that let them rise to the top, let them be positive
leaders to those who associated with them.
J.R. McConnell was the opposite
kind of person. In the mid-80s, and in a matter of a few months, out of nowhere
he became one of the most talked about people in Houston and Galveston. He threw
millions here and millions there toward real estate development.
lusted for his business, real estate brokers figured he was their financial deity,
and all but fell at his feet to worship. Interestingly, I chose not to do business
with him. I’m not sure why.
No one could explain the source of McConnell’s
personal wealth. The speculations were endless; most sounded to be at least bordering
But in reality, people didn’t really want to know for
fear that they would find the truth, a truth they wouldn’t like.
McConnell bought the huge Black Hardware building on Strand, and began turning
it into his vision, an eclectic retail market he’d name “Old Galveston Square.”
He started another Strand area building from scratch. It was designed
by a young architect who, some said of his designs, that so far only one, a garage,
actually had been built. It seems his plans were so specific and voluminous that
contractors found them nearly impossible to bid, and difficult to build.
bought acres and acres of land from the East Beach Corp. and announced plans to
develop them into a beachfront resort city. Within moments tractors began pushing
around sand to make room for roads.
But then his house of cards began
to catch up with him.
Ticor Title Co. filed a lawsuit claiming McConnell
had bulked them out of $50 million. McConnell quickly filed for bankruptcy and
showed debts of $427 million.
No one really knew what the real debt number
should be, not even McConnell.
Then Mc Connell fled to Mexico, apparently
because he knew he would be charged for committing fraud, and would have to defend
When the federal authorities located his Mexico whereabouts,
they sent word through a messenger that if he would come back to the U.S., it
was not their intent to charge him with any thing, they just wanted to talk with
him, and then he’d be free to go.
McConnell believed them, and they sent him a plane ticket for his trip back to
As soon as his plane landed, however, he was handcuffed, read
his rights, and taken off to jail. It wasn’t as he had been promised. He knew
that he had been tricked.
Now all but friendless, McConnell called Mr.
Mitchell from jail, and told him he had no money for bail and no money to pay
an attorney to defend him. His wife had no money for food, not even for minimal
The government had seized all of the assets in McConnell’s
name pending adjudication.
The following Saturday morning, Mr. Mitchell
and I were walking along the sidewalk adjacent to the Phoenix Bakery.
“I hired Percy Foreman’s old sidekick, Dick DeGuerin, today to get J.R. out of
jail on bond and to defend him,” he said casually to me.
I couldn’t believe
what he had said.
“Mr. Mitchell! Do you realize what people are going
to think about you? J.R. has allegedly misappropriated many people’s savings for
fraudulent purposes. The title companies think he has double-closed purchases
using funds from more than one lender,” I said in horror.
is America. We have nothing if our legal system doesn’t choose to treat everyone
equally and fairly. It looks to me like the Feds may have lied to J.R. They may
have tricked him.
If they did, they’ve put the scale of justice out of
balance. It’s not morally right for me to let them get away with that.”
Mr. Mitchell!” I was going to try one more time to reason with him. He interrupted.
“Bill, if you were ever tricked like it looks like J.R. was, I’d be there
for you, too.” And then he added, “And I know if something like this were ever
to happen to me, you’d do what you could to help me.
“I know that because
you and I share the same values. It’s why we’ve been friends for so long, and
it’s one of the primary reasons why you are Cynthia’s and my Galveston
real estate consultant, for what…twenty years now?”
Good grief, what a
great benefit I have had with my dad, Mr. Mitchell and Victor there to show me
the way by their examples.