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A Eddie Alvarez El Paso Times FEATURES Phil Gramm’s Dirty Money BY LOUIS DUBOSE In 1985, Texas Republicans were beginning to sense that their moment had arrived. Ronald Rea gan had been reelected. And a former Democratic congressman from College Station, who told his constituents that the party he had left “asked me to choose between Tip O’Neill and ya’ll, and I chose ya’ll,” had ridden Reagan:s coattails to a landslide victory over Lloyd Doggett in the Sen ate election. With Reagan beginning his second term, there would be additional patronage to in vest in expanding the party’s baseincluding its fundraising base. El Pasocloser to Reagan’ s sagebrush revolution than any other city in the statemust have seemed ripe for Republican party-building. The real growth in El Paso, at least the growth that mattered to the Republican Party, would occur north of I-10, in subdivisions creeping up the Franklin mountainswhere retirees from Fort Bliss would fortify El Paso’s growing Republican Anglo minority. And the city is ten hours from Austin, in one of the state’s secondary media markets, and in a time zone that leaves it an hour behind the rest of the state. It was the ideal location to run a campaign contribution shakedown that would generate cash for Republican political campaigns and move some prominent Mexican-American business leaders in the direction of the Republican Party. And for two years, that’s exactly what a cabal of Republicans working out of and around the city’s Small Business Administration office did. When the FBI finally caught up with them \(as did NBC news, following close behind the exceptional reporting of El Paso Herald-Post SBA director who had once worked in the Reagan White House lost his job; and his assistant, who had previously been dismissed from a Bill Clements border sinecure for failing to show up for work, was indicted. Yet Phil Gramm, their patron in the U.S. Senate, walked. He walked without being subjected to a complete investigation and without taking a serious hit in the press, because on February 19, 1988, a leased Rockwell Aero Commander 680 that had just taken off from El Paso International Airport banked sharply to the right and headed southwest for approximately two-and-a-half miles before it emerged from the clouds at three hundred feet, slammed into the I-10 right-of-way, and exploded. The plane was piloted by a local businessman who one day earlier had agreed to turn state’s evidence in an FBI investigation that had threatened not only Senator Gramm’s protg at the SBA, but some of the city’s most prominent business leaders. The local news media was already looking at Gramm, and a protracted criminal investigation and prosecutions involving an SBA employee linked to the Senator would have exposed Gramm, at the very least, to negative reports in the national pressjust as he was beginning his career in the Senate. At the time, one source close to the investigation said, there was the usual speculation about an “arranged accident.” But Don McCoy was a novice in the twin-engine aircraft he flew into snow flurries on his way to Palm Springs, California. He was de scribed by an airport employee as very anxious to depart, and McCoy, or someone, had failed to remove a safety pin designed to hold the land ing gear in place when the plane is on the ground. McCoy could have con tinued flying safely with the landing gear down, a National Transportation Safety Board director said at the time, although it would have been a nuisance. But he radioed the airport tower to report that he was returning, and while circling back toward the runway became disoriented in the falling snow. When he emerged from the clouds at three-hundred feet, his aircraft was in such a steep dive that it could not have been righted. Flying with him was his secretary and her eleven-year-old son. Both died with McCoy. The investigation McCoy had agreed to cooperate with involved contracts and advantageous bidding procedures for minority-owned SEPTEMBER 27, 1996 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER