LUBBOCK, Texas - Billie Sol Estes, 88, a flamboyant Texas huckster who became one of the most notorious men in America in 1962 when he was accused of looting a federal crop subsidy program, was found dead by a caretaker early Tuesday at his home in DeCordova Bend, southwest of Dallas.
Mr. Estes was best known for the scandal that broke during President John F. Kennedy's administration involving phony financial statements and nonexistent fertilizer tanks. Several lower-level agriculture officials resigned, and he wound up spending several years in prison.
At the height of his infamy, Time magazine put him on its cover, calling him "a bundle of contradictions and paradoxes who makes Dr. Jekyll seem almost wholesome."
"I thought he would meet a very violent end. We worried about him being killed for years," his daughter, Pamela Estes Padget, said Tuesday, adding that her father died peacefully in his recliner, with chocolate chip cookie crumbs on his lips.
His name was often linked with that of fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson, but the late president's associates said their relationship was never as close or as sinister as the wheeler-dealer implied.
Mr. Estes was convicted in 1965 of mail fraud and conspiracy to defraud. An earlier conviction had been thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court over the use of cameras in the courtroom. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, he was freed in 1971 after serving six years.
New charges were brought in 1979, and that year he was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to conceal assets from the IRS. He was sentenced to 10 more years but was freed in 1983.
Mr. Estes became a millionaire before he was 30. Many of his deals involved agriculture products and services, including irrigation and the fertilizer products that later led to his downfall.
Before his release from federal prison in 1983, he said he had uncovered the root of his problems: compulsiveness. "I'm just one drink away from being an alcoholic and just one deal away from being back in prison."