Lee Zurik Investigation: SL 340 just the tip of the 'Dirty Deeds' iceberg

Published: May. 5, 2012 at 1:29 AM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2012 at 4:09 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

$35 million -- imagine getting a check written to you in that amount.

In 1986, the son of former Louisiana Governor James Noe took out a mortgage from the Allied Bank of Texas. He received $35 million and used his interest in state oil leases to pay off the loan.

"Using the equity of the collateral of Win or Lose… it's a very valuable lease," says former journalist Bob Barton, who wrote about the corporation several years ago. "It's a great deal. I mean, you're going to get millions of dollars the rest of your life, and your family will get millions of dollars the rest of their lives."

We've shown you the 273 million or so dollars that heirs of former governors Huey Long, James Noe and O.K. Allen, along with businessman W.T. Burton, have earned. But that only covers one state lease.

LSU historian Terrence Fitzmorris says these men used "their insider trading, their knowledge of the oil and gas industry and their positions as legislators, senators and governors to, in a sense, extort from the people of Louisiana these mineral rights."

The first lease this group received came in October of 1934. State records show Governor O.K. Allen awarded State Lease 309 to his lieutenant governor, James Noe.  Less than a month later, Noe transferred his royalty interest in that lease to the newly formed Win or Lose Corporation, a company owned by Noe, Governor Allen and Senator Huey Long.

In July of 1935, Allen awarded State Lease 318 to businessman W.T. Burton. Burton transferred some royalty interest to Win or Lose. But state documentation shows no record of it. Burton paid the state $32,750 for the lease. Burton assigned some of the rights to the Texas Company, or Texaco, which paid $70,500: an instant profit of $37,750 for Burton. That's $632,083 in today's dollars.

Huey Long died in September of 1935. But Win or Lose continued to make money, receiving interest in oil leases.

In December of 1935, O.K. Allen again awarded to Burton State Lease 335. The assignment to Texaco gives him an instant $40,000 profit. Burton also assigned some rights to that lease to Win or Lose.

Governor Allen died in January of 1936; James Noe succeeded him as governor.

Noe first awarded State Lease 340 -- the lease we told you about in part one of our investigation -- one of the most lucrative leases in state history.

Next, in February of 1936, Noe gave Burton State Lease 341, another lease the state has no record of where Win or Lose officially held a royalty interest. But years later, documents show the state received money from the lease.

And in March of 1936, Noe hands over State Lease 344 to Burton. No document exists that shows he transferred rights to Win or Lose. But in 1947, the state sent a letter to Mrs. Huey Long, saying they recently checked and writing, "We find that you are the owner of an overriding royalty interest under this lease."

"Never drilled an oil well," says independent researcher Keith Cressionnie of the Win or Lose scheme's participants. "And through Oscar K. Allen and James Noe, [they] gave themselves, like I said, 10 state leases for close to two million acres of ground."

Descendants of Win or Lose also have an interest in State Lease 195. That's in Plaquemines Parish. No document exists that shows Win or Lose was given an interest in that state lease. But right now, Lease 195 is the second most productive lease in the state, generating more income than all but one lease.

The state formed the Mineral Board in late 1936, and at that point all transfers and assignments had to be approved by the Board. So if the state has no record of the approval of a transfer, it raises a question: Was the transfer invalid?

There are 10 state leases in all linked to this group -- some are still profitable, but others are no longer valid. In 1984, they helped a trust run by William Burton Lawton receive a $20 million mortgage.

All totaled, the leases -- including state lease 340 -- have paid all parties, including original founders and descendants, more than $400 million. Adjusted for inflation, that figure comes to a staggering $1.2 billion.

"It's not a case of Win or Lose, it's a case of right or wrong," says Barton. "We just don't really think it was rightly done, that there's something done that doesn't pass the smell test."