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Bill Moore’s Good Fight

Th stand-up CEO takes on an over-reaching government.
illustration by Jason Ueland

Twenty-three years ago, when his CEO star was rising, Bill Moore was indicted on a personal vendetta. He’s not anywhere close to getting over it.

And if that prosecutor walked into his office today, apologized, and asked for forgiveness?

“I’d want to punch him,” Moore says. Even at 72, he could pull it off. He’s fit and full of vigor. And despite a limp, still has the swagger of a man who was once a baseball catcher for Georgetown University and an Army Ranger in Vietnam.

Moore is quick to say that he has had a great life, despite being railroaded by the U.S. government in the late 1980s. At the time, he was CEO of Irving-based Recognition Equipment Inc.

After the scandal, he and his wife, Chelen, started a sales consulting business in Las Colinas called Grayson Group. They travel frequently and have a home in North Dallas with a swimming pool and tennis court. Most important, nine grandchildren live nearby, within walking distance.

But when it comes to his corporate career, Moore has unfinished business. He could have simply declared victory in 1989, after being acquitted without calling a single defense witness. He might never have entered a courtroom again.

Instead, Moore went after Uncle Sam and the postal inspectors who accused him, suing for malicious prosecution. They claim they’re immune from civil action and have fought back relentlessly and endlessly, trying to kill the case.

But year after year, Moore and his Pittsburgh attorney—both practicing Catholics—have refused to back down. In the process, Moore has redefined the notion of duty and public service.

He has always considered himself a patriot. When he was 22, he survived a river ambush south of Saigon. Today, he leads a local USO effort that has raised millions. His son is a prosecutor in Houston, focusing on white-collar crime.

But Moore’s legacy is being built from his fight with the feds—a stand-up guy taking on an over-reaching government.

“If they can do this to me, they can do it to anyone,” Moore says. “I cannot let them get away with it. I won’t let them get away with it.”

Five appeals courts and the Supreme Court have sided with Moore. In the latest favorable ruling last summer, one judge wrote separately
“to express dismay over the herculean effort” required for Moore to simply get his day in court.

“To say that this has not been the government’s finest hour is a colossal, and lamentable, understatement,” wrote Circuit Judge Karen Henderson.

Her slap didn’t stop the feds from challenging yet another technicality, so a jury trial appears to be at least a year away. The case has dragged on so long that two of six postal inspectors have died. One judge compared it to a fictional case in a Dickens novel that lasted 100 years.

At its core, Moore’s case alleges abuse of government power, with public officials targeting a critic for retribution and personal gain. Rulings have already been cited by civil rights experts, and enough damning evidence has been introduced to make people think twice.

“It’s less likely that some pack of young zealots will ever do this again,” said Mickey Pohl of Jones Day, who has handled the suit from the beginning.

Like cops, postal inspectors make mistakes and prosecutors make bad calls. But there’s a presumption that public agents act in good faith. In this instance, Moore insists they knew he was innocent and still brought the indictment.

Inspectors wanted to punish him for speaking out and the prosecutor wanted a white-collar trophy to boost his career. Those motives aren’t just Moore’s assertions; the details emerged from documents uncovered through years of discovery. Last summer, the appeals court wrote that the evidence came close to “the proverbial smoking gun,” with Moore producing two documents showing that the Postal Inspection Service had retaliated against him.

He was targeted in the 1980s because he criticized plans for next-generation mail scanners. He argued that his Irving-based company, Recognition Equipment Inc., had a better solution, and he championed the view with congressmen and the media. In trying to win business with the post office, REI enlisted a lobbying firm recommended by a member of the agency’s board of governors

It turns out that the official was getting bribes from the same firm. But Moore says he never knew about the scheme—and there has been no evidence to the contrary.

That’s why the criminal case ended so decisively. However, the indictment alone was the equivalent of a scarlet letter for Moore, and the beginning of the end for REI. At its peak, Moore says the company had $300 million in revenue and 3,200 employees. After the scandal, corporate raiders took over and sold it.

Before the indictment, Moore earned around $2.4 million a year at REI, Pohl says, which is about $2 million more than his current consultant’s pay. Multiply that by 20-plus years, and you get an idea of the damages they’re seeking.

At REI, Moore played on a big stage, running a public company that made presentations in Paris and Monaco. In 1985, he was hailed as Executive of the Year by a local business journal; the framed cover still hangs on his conference room wall. The hand-drawn sketches feature three execs: Ross Perot, Al Casey of American Airlines, and Moore.

Given his career trajectory, he was being mentioned as a potential leader at HP or Digital Equipment. Then it all ended.

Moore still gets queasy before a court hearing, saying it’s like reopening a wound. And although Pohl’s fees are contingent on Moore winning his back pay, Moore personally covers as much as $100,000 a year in legal expenses.

If the federal strategy was to stall until Moore gave up, it’s not working. As with baseball, there’s no time clock on justice. No matter how long it takes, Moore is determined to get his last swings.

Mitchell Schnurman is an award-winning business columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.