The details of Bill McNutt’s February arrest—at least the details that have been made public—don’t add up. The prominent SMU alumnus had been banned from campus since November 2008. A university official would later tell the Dallas Morning News that SMU had “heard reports of alleged questionable behavior that caused concern among some students.” McNutt had dinner parties at his house, and he invited students to them. Alcohol was available. So was a masseuse. Several people told the News that the dinners were “creepy,” and girls felt pressured to undress for a private massage in a mirrored back room.
But even if true, none of that was illegal. So why would the university ban a donor and the founding president of the Young Alumni Association from campus? And why, if he was banned, did McNutt continue to receive personal invitations to on-campus functions from members of the administration? The administration was saying one thing; SMU Police Chief Rick Shafer was saying another. He warned McNutt that he was “not welcome on the SMU campus for any reason whatsoever.”
Yet there was 54-year-old McNutt—scion of the Collin Street Bakery fruitcake empire, former White House staffer, chairman of the Texas Commission on the Arts, deacon at Highland Park Presbyterian Church—late in the afternoon on February 15 at Gerald R. Ford Stadium, most definitely on SMU’s campus. No one is talking about why McNutt was there that day. Reports said that when he saw two campus police officers, he headed for a doorway to one of the stadium tunnels. The officers ordered him to stop. And, not far from a workout room that bears his name, McNutt was arrested for trespassing.
The officers handcuffed him and sat him in the back of a patrol car. But they didn’t take him to the quiet, clean, Mayberry-like holding facility at the University Park Police Department where SMU Police would take students and faculty. Instead, they took him to the far less pleasant Lew Sterrett Justice Center, in downtown Dallas. McNutt was arrested at 5:51 pm but wasn’t booked into the county facility until 7:30. He spent almost four hours in custody, then was freed on a $500 bond.
SMU officials have stubbornly refused to answer questions about the incident and the initial ban. They have also declined to comply with requests for police reports filed under the Freedom of Information Act. SMU spokesman Kent Best cites the college’s private status and claims the fully empowered and state-certified SMU Police Department can arrest citizens without being accountable to the public.
But given the way events unfolded, only one conclusion makes sense: Bill McNutt wasn’t merely being arrested; he was being sent a message. SMU was trying to embarrass him. They’ve succeeded. As every media outlet in town hounds him, McNutt has been forced to step down from his deaconship and chairmanship of the Texas Commission on the Arts. He’s being forced to defend not only the way he throws a dinner party, but, the way he conducted himself more than 30 years ago, while a student at Oxford University. The whole ordeal has brought what some say is a man with two personalities—a Jekyll and Hyde disconnect—out into public for the first time.
===“You mention Bill McNutt's name, and people will roll their eyes and shake their head.” --former investment partner!==
Lee William “Bill” McNutt III is the first-born son of Bill McNutt Jr., the founder of Collin Street Bakery. A mail-order fruitcake company of international renown, it is headquartered about an hour’s drive south of Dallas, in Corsicana. McNutt Jr. died in 2006, but during his leadership of Collin Street Bakery through the late 1990s, he was considered a visionary businessman. He transformed a small, regional business into a worldwide retailer. McNutt Jr. was an early adopter of what, at the time, were cutting-edge direct marketing, inventory, and mailing list database strategies. And he was among the first to adapt emerging communications technologies like the fax machine and the internet to his business model. He was also a business partner of Lamar Hunt’s and owned part of the Dallas Tornado soccer team.
McNutt III went to SMU for an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree and then earned his MBA at Vanderbilt, his father’s alma mater. Around this time, some people close to the McNutt family say, a pattern of boorish conduct began to emerge—and they say he was insulated from the ramifications of it by a powerful family in a small town.
“I love the McNutt family as much as my own family,” says one person close to the McNutt family who declined to be named. For clarity’s sake, we will call this person “Smith.” “I hate any negative reflection on the McNutt family and Collin Street Bakery. And I understand the protective instinct they have,” Smith says. “But what they’ve done without realizing it is acted as Bill’s enablers. He never had to deal with the consequences of what he’s done or how he treats women. The family does what it can to help clean up after Bill’s injuries. They’ve been doing that for a long time.”
For instance, Smith says, McNutt never had to face any serious consequences from his role in the death of a Vanderbilt student in the late 1970s. McNutt was in his early 20s and pursuing his MBA at Vanderbilt. Two female students from Vanderbilt had come to visit him at the family home in Corsicana. After dinner and drinking, McNutt told the women they had to leave. One had passed out, so he put her in the back of the car without a seat belt. Not far from the house, the driver, Mary Lynn Mathis, crashed head-on into another car. Mathis lay in a coma for several days; the other woman died of her injuries. McNutt organized a prayer vigil in Nashville for Mathis, which Smith says only angered Mathis’ father.
McNutt, who agreed to answer only certain questions via e-mail or through his lawyers, had his attorney, C.H. “Hank” Judin III, respond to a question about this incident. “Nearly 30 years ago, Mary Lynn and a friend had driven down to Corsicana, went to dinner with Bill and another friend, and on the trip back to Dallas, had a terrible accident,” Judin writes in an e-mail. “Tragically, her friend died. Today, Mary Lynn is a successful lawyer who lives out of state.”
Mathis did not return repeated calls to her office.
“Nothing ever came of it regarding Bill’s responsibility in letting them drive away knowing they were too drunk,” Smith says. “Once again, it was swept under the rug, and he didn’t care. ”
Throughout the 1980s, McNutt threw himself into Republican Party politics, serving as chairman of the 1980 Navarro County Reagan-Bush campaign. And politics led him to the woman who would become his first wife, 22-year-old Alicia Nygaard. Nygaard’s father, Max, was a major player in Republican circles. The Nygaards regularly hosted President Ronald Reagan and his family when they would visit, and they counted conservative icons like the late Lyn Nofziger as intimates. Michael Reagan and Alicia Nygaard were very close and went to Arizona State University together.
McNutt started courting Nygaard after her society debut in 1983. He asked if she wanted to attend the 1984 Republican Convention at the Dallas Convention Center, where Reagan was nominated for a second term. He had tickets. “But she knew that he knew she had a standing invitation to the presidential box instead of just the open admission tickets he had,” a Nygaard family friend says. “He was networking as much as he was asking her out.”
If Alicia Nygaard knew, she didn’t mind, and friends say she was swept away by McNutt’s kindness and thoughtfulness. “He has a way of winning people over,” the Nygaard family friend says. “He’s very charming at first. People like that are. He wanted to pray on the first date.”
The courting in 1984 led to a lavish wedding in April 1986, which in turn led McNutt to a job working for the Reagan-Bush transition team in Washington, D.C. Friends say that it wasn’t long after the wedding that Nygaard started seeing past the face McNutt showed to the world.
“She saw his confrontations with his father over how he embarrassed the family with things he did, and how they couldn’t keep covering up for him,” Smith says.
Brother Bob McNutt—who took the reins of Collin Street Bakery when Bill McNutt Jr. retired in 1998—says that he was never privy to any confrontations or interventions between his father and brother. “I wasn’t called into the room to say, ‘Here, your brother needs—’ I don’t know what,” Bob says.
In 1987, McNutt began working in the Reagan administration’s Office of Management and Budget in Washington, which reports to the White House and, in a broad sense, is part of it. There he handled privatization issues. “Bill is one of the best networkers that I have ever known,” says a former colleague who is now an oil executive in Houston who declined to be named. “He made a lot of friends in a very short time. Bill was introduced to me by a mutual friend from Dallas. Early in 1988, he left to join the Bush for President campaign staff, which I believe was his main goal in going to Washington. Bill was considered hardworking and innovative, and he was especially computer savvy, which was not so common 20 years ago. Like many on the transition team, after President Bush took office, he was appointed to a position in the Bush administration.”
McNutt’s career in Washington was a success. But his personal life was in shambles and deteriorating quickly. A source close to the couple at the time says McNutt would obsess about other women, following them around. In one case, the source says, McNutt was so taken with a woman at an event that he tried to take her picture while she was using the toilet.
“He followed her into the bathroom,” the source says. “Her brother was there and nearly got into a fight with Bill.”
But McNutt’s lawyer, Hank Judin, describes it much differently. “This question is laughable,” Judin writes in an e-mail. “This is the case where, because the lines for the ladies room were long at a public event, a young man brought his sister into the men’s room. Bill and others in the crowded men’s room thought this was hilarious. When a number of them whipped out their cameras, the young man and the woman promptly departed. Someone reported the incident to the arena security forces. When they learned the man and woman had been in the men’s room, they laughed and walked off.”
Much more serious is the accusation that McNutt physically and psychologically abused his wife—alternately being cruel and remorseful. Smith describes an example of his dual nature. An argument with McNutt turned violent, and it was serious enough that his wife had to go to the hospital—though her own priest told her not to report the incident because, the priest said, she couldn’t save the marriage if her husband was in jail. When she came home, McNutt was on his knees, weeping and begging for forgiveness.
McNutt responded to Smith’s allegation himself, writing, “The last question is outrageous and untrue. It doesn’t deserve to be dignified. We were divorced over 15 years ago. My ex-wife and I are both remarried.”
Two weeks after their second son was born in 1990, Alicia Nygaard McNutt left her husband in Washington, D.C. Their divorce was granted in 1994. The record is sealed. She kept their two sons away from McNutt.
Back in dallas in the late 1990s and early 2000s, McNutt, who was no longer a direct part of the family fruitcake business, tried to establish himself as a businessman. He started a direct marketing firm that he ran from home and was involved in several private equity investments and partnerships. McNutt had proven himself adept at making political connections, but he failed to do so in the private sector. Because of the nature of the investment business and the need for maintaining relationships, none of the people contacted who did business with him wanted to be named. But they weren’t shy in their criticism.
“Oh, we have no problem throwing him under the bus, but that can burn you,” says one former investment partner. “He just creeped us out. You mention Bill McNutt’s name, and people will roll their eyes and shake their head.”
McNutt eventually remarried—to Susana Rabel—in April 2006. At the ceremony, held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, his groomsmen included his brother, an English lord, and Lamar Hunt Jr., among other notables. Beyond his new marriage, though, 2006 was a tumultuous year for McNutt. His father passed away at the age of 81. And his brother Bob removed him from the board of directors of Collin Street Bakery, severing all ties between Bill McNutt and the fruitcake company his father had built into a small empire.
“I just felt more comfortable, since I was going to have to move forward under my game plan, that it would be better to do that with a board that didn’t include him,” Bob McNutt says.
The next year, McNutt was among the class of 22 deacons confirmed to serve the congregation of the 4,600-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Deacons serve three-year terms. The membership makes recommendations, a committee nominates them from these recommendations, and then the congregation votes and elects the deacons. They are considered men of the highest spiritual character.
Again, though, McNutt appeared to have another side to his personality. While he was still basking in the embrace of Christian fellowship, a former employee, Halina Grodd, was sitting in the offices of the Highland Park Police Department, telling police how McNutt had been stalking her ever since she’d resigned in June. Grodd told Officer Joe Garber on August 20 that McNutt had been following her and making her feel threatened. He was obsessed, she told Garber, driving by her Lomo Alto Drive high-rise at all hours in his white Hummer, and calling and hanging up repeatedly. There hadn’t been violence, but McNutt could be explosive, and she didn’t know how far he might go, she told Garber. She was scared. She’d tried everything she could think of to that point, even contacting McNutt’s brother Bob, asking for his help in reigning in his older brother. She said Bob McNutt was the one who told her to report Bill McNutt to the police. Bob McNutt declined to comment on this claim.
Garber took the report, but without specific charges or evidence in hand, police could not pursue the matter until laws were broken, according to HPPD Detective Marty Nevil.
An hour later, Grodd also reported the alleged harassment, threats, and stalking to the University Park Police Department, even though none of it had occurred within the UPPD’s jurisdiction. She simply wanted a record of it within the same city where McNutt’s McFarlin Boulevard home is located.
Nothing came of the allegations. McNutt wouldn’t be so fortunate a year later.
SMU officials have never fully explained how, in November 2008, McNutt came to be unwelcome on campus. The closest they’ve come is this e-mail message sent by school spokesman Patti LaSalle to the Dallas Morning News in the wake of McNutt’s February arrest:
“In general, we can confirm that we heard reports of alleged questionable behavior that caused concern among some students as they visited an off-campus location for social events. ... SMU took this information into consideration as it contemplated taking action. The criminal trespass warning from SMU police was based on reports of alleged violations of university policy and criminal statutes, such as offering alcohol to minors.”
Whatever happened that led to McNutt’s ban, it was unclear, at best, how serious he should take the situation. Stuart Parker, one of his other attorneys, says that McNutt regularly received personal invitations to events at SMU. “You wanted to know if SMU was sending ‘mixed signals’ by
issuing a trespass warning and subsequently sending, to Bill, at home, direct invitations to ‘Invitation Only’ events at SMU?” Parker asks. “Of course that is a mixed signal. What else could it be? The invitations, in some cases, came from the highest levels of the administration of SMU.”
SMU has declined to comment on the invitations that McNutt regularly received, and likewise McNutt won’t discuss the campus ban and arrest until the criminal matter is resolved. But, in his own way, McNutt has launched a public relations blitz to counter the bad press.
In follow-up stories after McNutt’s arrest, the Dallas Morning News detailed allegations from a few students who felt it was inappropriate that the McNutts hosted dinner parties with a licensed masseuse offering massages. When D Magazine first made contact with McNutt, a dozen supporters called and e-mailed the magazine saying they’d attended the same dinner parties. The statements sound scripted, but no one saw anything untoward, and if any minors were served alcohol, it wasn’t with the McNutts’ consent.
“During the time I worked for the McNutts as an undergrad at SMU, I attended several parties at their home. It was good for me to meet successful professionals,” says Hana Worede, who has since graduated.
Issa Traore, a current student, said much the same. “I have been friends with Bill and Susana McNutt for a couple of years,” she says. “They have, on several occasions, invited me to their welcoming home for volleyball and dinner parties. The McNutts have always shared very good and free advice as far as education and career, and they have introduced me to several successful professionals.”
“I have had lovely dinners at Bill McNutt’s house on many occasions and have been delighted to be treated by a trained professional massage therapist,” says Dr. Lori Anna Dees, an endodontist. “I have felt very comfortable hiring her, a kind and modest Nigerian immigrant, who has come to my house to treat my muscular back pain.”
The story is no longer about McNutt’s trespassing charge. Or, it’s not only about that anymore. For instance: an incident during McNutt’s time as part of an SMU-run program at Oxford University some 30 years ago warranted a March 22 story in the Dallas Morning News, rehashing the decades-old details. The Oxford report reads like the experience of half of all young men in college. Some mutual petting after a few drinks reached a point where the girl wanted it to stop, he acquiesced, and when asked to leave, he did so. She was angry at the time, but they made amends a few years later. At most, the female student simply regretted that anything had happened and didn’t hold it against McNutt later. That account, incidentally, comes from the background investigation conducted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management when McNutt was cleared to work in the Bush White House on the transition team.
McNutt says that he wants the whole incident behind him. He’s still not talking about his arrest or what led to it. But here is what he says, via e-mail, about the incident at Oxford and his other actions that have become a matter of public scrutiny:
“I have sought counseling from a variety of religious and professionals on occasion throughout the years in the hope of becoming a better person, husband, parent, and friend. I view this as a source of strength, not weakness. I continue to do so. As for seeking forgiveness, I’m not sure where to begin. … This apparently started with what the Dallas Morning News reported an anonymous source called an ‘unwanted inappropriate embrace.’ That was 32 years ago and I was 22. Five years after that incident, I did reconcile as a friend with the individual.
“I deeply regret serving margaritas at our small dinner parties and not ascertaining that the college students attending were all of age.
“Over three decades, any ambitious entrepreneur rubs people the wrong way. Apparently I’ve infuriated a few people. I deeply regret that, but I wish they would take up their concerns with me directly so I know what to apologize for, and I will.”
It’s a little unclear where McNutt goes from here. There almost certainly won’t be a trial. McNutt doesn’t have much of a defense, and surely he doesn’t want any more publicity. But the biggest question remains: did Bill McNutt get the message SMU sent him?
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