DOUG MULDER, THE HOUDINI of the Dallas legal establishment, was at it again.
He was doing what he does best: capitalizing on the fact that, thanks to his artfulness (which is a nice way of putting it) as a prosecutor, and now as a defense lawyer, people like Randall Dale Adams had gone to prison. and people like Walker Railey had not.
On this June morning in 1989, Mulder, all polished and coifed and regal-looking, was easing up to the judge’s bench without prior appointment, putting himself and his client ahead of the sullen-looking pack of small-time criminals who had been patiently waiting, unshaven and disheveled like a boatload of Ellis Island immigrants, for the judge’s weekly Monday morning cattle call of pleas and motions and probation requests.
Mulder had worked out a plea bargain agreement with Assistant District Attorney Walter Tweed Johnson. If the judge approved it, Mulder’s client-Harold N. Giddens, a cherubic Park Cities resident, 50, husband and father, real estate and oil and gas wheeler-dealer-would plead guilty to felony theft of $220,000. He would be sentenced to seven years in prison. He would not be prosecuted for nine other alleged thefts (an additional $862,292) of which the state was aware.
The two lawyers presented the deal, which was subsequently approved. Then Mulder and Giddens turned to leave. As they passed the groaning morass of low-class lawbreakers who would be there the rest of the morning, Giddens did a strange thing.
He started smiling. Beaming, in fact. And then he began merrily snapping his fingers, as though he had just won the lottery.
Which indeed he had.
Because Harold Giddens, wheeler-dealer-turned-white-collar criminal, had just beaten the system.
“THE SYSTEM ACTUALLY worked.” Giddens now says giddily. “Because I was out in only three-and-a-half months.”
Giddens went into the Texas Department of Corrections on August 9.1989. He was transferred to a pre-parole facility in Sweetwater on November 1. He was sent home, back to the warm bosom of University Park, four days before Christmas. He wore an electronic ankle bracelet to track his movements until June. One could argue that the biggest hard ship he endured during that time was having to sell his $545,000 home and move into a rented duplex a few blocks away.
To the law-abiding citizen, this is not exactly bustin’ rocks. Although stealing more than $1 million is fairly serious business in the minds of most people, it’s no big deal in the white-collar criminal world. Giddens himself makes light of it.
“In prison, people asked, ’Why are you here? What did you do-beat up a Girl Scout?’” Giddens says, chuckling.
Assistant DA Johnson shrugs. “Doesn’t everyone get away with murder every day down here? It’s not just white-collar criminals. It’s everybody. Nobody’s serving much time any more.”
Tell that to the victims
of Giddens’s grandiose scams.
“The man stole over a million dollars, and he got just over 90 days in prison,” says Charles Weed, a former corporate CEO who lost $68,300 to Giddens, “Well, that’s about $12,000 profit for every day spent in prison, which isn’t a bad way to make a living.”
No, it’s not. Especially since, according to Giddens, Huntsville is not so terrible for a white, white-collar guy from a fancy neighborhood.
’”It’s not all that bad,” says Giddens. “There are two ways to go-I went the easy way; bad people go the bad way. I was the only one there who didn’t have to do anything. Nothing. The girl said to me, ’I always make them do things, but you’re okay.
No trade school. No AA.’ But I went to everything anyway. Every church service. One time even a Jewish service. You’ve got to. Your mind goes blank. My vocabulary improved 100 percent. 1 was reading a book every two to three days.”
Still, Giddens says, he would rather not have been there.
“The first two weeks were the worst two weeks of my life,” he says. “And I was terribly, terribly angry. There was not a day I was down there that I did not admit that I’d made a mistake.”
If it had not been a simple, innocent mistake-if he had been purposefully, actively swindling his best friends-Giddens insists that he would have made off with a lot more of their money. “If I really wanted to-really wanted to-I could have gotten millions of dollars,” he says confidently. “But the mistake was made. There was a mistake. Definitely.”
Charles Weed and nine other prominent Dallas men, including former Governor Bill Clements’s son Gill, would love to know just how Giddens can call what he did a mistake. It seemed pretty deliberate and calculated to them.
“It’s a very sad situation,” says one of Gid-dens’s victims, who did not want to be quoted by name. “He didn’t really prey on many strangers. He preyed on his friends. He’s sick. He’s really sick.”
What Giddens did was to put together business deals-or at least make it appear that he was putting together deals-and then recruit his well-to-do Park Cities friends to invest in them. These were friends he’d made through the church Sunday school, or the Royal Oaks Country Club, or the Highland Park Sports Club (made up of daddies whose boys play sports), or the Indian Princesses (made up of daddies whose girls camp out).
“We were ail close friends with him,1’ says Weed, who met Giddens at Royal Oaks. “We didn’t know he was a crook. We played gin out here. So he’d say, ’Come on, Charles, put in $5,000-$5,000 is like one game of gin.’ So I’d say. ’Okay, here’s my check for $5,000.’ We trusted him. He was one of us.”
They trusted him, for example, on deals that involved paper oil companies. “We had a meeting of some of the victims at one point,” says Sam Caudle, an investor. “And we discovered that Giddens had sold one of us an option on a deal with the George Baker Oil Co. Well, George Baker was one of the victims at our meeting, and he told us he’d never had an oil company.”
Caudle, who lost $136,600 to Giddens, claims he was among several people suck-ered into investing in a $680,000 piece of overvalued Rockwall real estate that Giddens, unbeknownst to his friends, had quietly flipped for a tidy $370,000 profit just before unloading it on his pals.
Gill Clements had known Giddens since they graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in North Dallas. So when Giddens came to him in 1987, peddling an incredible deal on a distressed property, Clements quickly agreed to put up the earnest money needed to secure the property. The promised return on his investment was so extraordinary, in fact, that Clements would later dig deeply into his children’s trust funds to shore up his initial outlay. Apparently, the property never existed, Clements never got his earnest money back.
“There’s a certain amount of embarrassment about this-that you can be scammed like this,” Caudle says. “These are pretty good businessmen, but we all fell for the deal.”
Although rumors about the deal began circulating in early 1988. no one put it all together until it was too late. “If someone got suspicious and told Harold they wanted their money back, he’d go scam someone else to pay them,” says one victim. “It was only those of us at the tail end of the deal who were left holding the empty bag.”
That, strangely enough, is Giddens’s defense. His “mistake.”
“It’s like I often say,” Giddens explains, “you borrow from the till on Monday, and you’ve got to put it back on Friday, but it’s not there on Friday. And then the whole world blows up.”
And when it blew up, the victims decided to organize. Ironically, they, too, called Doug Mulder to help them, but Mulder’s secretary told them her boss only represented defendants, not victims. Though several frustrated members of the group argued for letting Giddens move somewhere else to scam anew and recover their money, cooler heads prevailed, and the decision was made to file criminal complaints.
Today, all Harold Giddens’s former friends have to show for
their faith in the process is Giddens’s breeze through TDC and a court order, signed by Mulder and Johnson, ordering Giddens to pay $1.08 million in restitution-an order that Mulder and Johnson agree is not enforceable without further expensive legal action.
No wonder Giddens was snapping his fingers in court.
“When I got out so fast, Mulder was tickled,” Giddens remembers. “He said, ’I told you. I deal in the real world. These other guys, these victims, have no idea what’s going on. If anything ever happened to them, unless they kill somebody, they’d never go to jail…’
“It’s all a function of dollars,” he gushes.
“If you have enough money, you don’t go to jail. Unless you do a violent crime or you happen to be Don Dixon, and you are now a political problem. But if you’re a regular person, and you have enough money, you don’t go to jail. And if I’d had enough money, I wouldn’t have gone. Period.”
According to Mulder, Giddens had enough to pay him $30,000 to $50,000 for a plea bargain. But if he’d had enough for a full-blown defense, which would have included trials on 10 separate theft charges, at $40,000 to $50,000 per trial, Mulder agrees that Giddens probably would have gotten probation.
“I don’t think a jury-or I’d be surprised if a jury-puts a first-time offender like Giddens in the pen,” Mulder says. “Not if you balanced every good that he’s done, all the community service, with those instances.”
Mulder says there was no miscarriage of justice in the fact that his client served only three-plus months of a seven-year sentence.
“I think Harold Giddens was probably rehabilitated during the first week he was down there,” Mulder says confidently.
Yes, Giddens is having trouble re-establishing himself professionally-the phone number of the company he started when he got out, which he vaguely describes as “a little bit of investing and some business consulting,” has been disconnected. He’s working out of his duplex.
But remorse and humility are not a partof this equation. According to Giddens.there’s only one reason he ever went toprison. “I just pissed off some strong, influential people.”
DOUG MULDER, THE HOUDINI of the Dallas legal establishment, was at it again.