Billionaires Behaving Badly: T. Boone Pickens

By Steve Burgess  OCT 21, 2010 8:05 AM

He has won over the environmental crowd with his focus on wind power, but remains unforgiven for some former sins.

 


T. Boone Pickens was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, a town he recently began to steal. True, he only stole one piece of it. But if he hadn't been caught early, there's no telling what might have happened. Like most billionaires, Pickens is a man who wants what he wants and figures he has the right to get it.

The Great Holdenville Heist was uncovered one morning last June when homeowner David McCart went out to mow the lawn and discovered that a 3x5 concrete slab was missing from his driveway. It was no ordinary piece of concrete—this particular chunk bore the signature of Boone Pickens, carved into the cement when the tycoon-in-training was just an innocent lad causing property damage at his grandmother's home. The fact that Grandma Pickens' former place was now the legally owned property of another man did not stop the 81-year-old oil baron from hiring a midnight repo squad to cut out the slab and haul it back to his ranch in the Texas panhandle. It might have been the perfect crime—had there been more than one suspect. But even the OJ jurors could have figured this one out. “It's really the arrogance of it that bothers me,” McCart was quoted as saying. “They just cut the whole section out.”

Pickens agreed to return the slab, and his Holdenville reign of terror was at an end. Pickens had already moved his childhood home to the ranch, so presumably his plans did not stop with the slab. The church, the post office, perhaps some little corner store where Pickens might have stolen his first candy—no Holdenville structure would have been safe.

Pickens had previously helped steal an election from John Kerry by bankrolling the sleazy Swift Boat ads that attacked Kerry's war record during the 2004 presidential campaign. Pickens, who never served in the military himself, later offered a million dollars to anyone who could disprove the Swift Boaters' claims. A group of Kerry's fellow soldiers replied with a 12-page letter refuting the claims, accompanied by a 42-page support document. Pickens weaseled out of paying. In a bar you'd get punched out for that sort of thing, but political campaigns are a different matter.

To his great credit, Pickens has donated over $700 million to charity, notably to Oklahoma State University. He has also become a rather unlikely advocate for alternative energy sources, particularly wind power. His “Pickens Plan,” announced in 2008, would shift domestic energy use away from foreign oil toward alternative energy sources such as wind and natural gas—both areas in which Pickens owns a substantial interest. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The Pickens Plan has received prominent support from environmentalists, including the Sierra Club's Carl Pope. “Mr. Pickens and I probably don't see eye-to-eye on some other matters,” Pope said, “But he's right on this one.”

You can bet Pickens will fight for the plan. too. After all, it has his name on it.



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