DALLAS -- Even by Texas standards, Rex Cauble is rich.
But 10 counts of drug trafficking, racketeering and fraud threaten to topple the kingdom oil and horses built.
Cauble -- who rose from being a 17-year-old oilfield roughneck to the owner of the Texas State Drilling Co., a welding supply company, the trendy Cutter Bill Western World Stores in Dallas and Houston, and six ranches -- is reckoned to be worth between $53 million and $80 million.
But a U.S. Attorney has publicly labeled the dapper 67-year-old Denton, Texas, millionaire a 'general' in the 'Cowboy Mafia' of drug smugglers caught in the seizure of a shrimp boat carrying 22 tons of high grade Colombian marijuana to Port Arthur, Texas.
More than 20 members of the so-called 'Cowboy Mafia' -- some of them employes and close friends of Cauble -- have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to drug smuggling charges arising from that seizure and related cases.
Cauble -- a former Texas Aeronautics Commission chairman and friend of former Gov. John Connally -- was indicted Aug. 7 by a Tyler, Texas, grand jury. He has pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy and racketeering in an alleged plot to bankroll shipments of more than 274,000 pounds of marijuana.
Four of those counts charge him with racketeering involving banking transactions at South Main Bank in Houston and Western Bank in Denton, where Cauble served as a director.
He is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 11.
If Cauble is convicted on the charges, as many as 13 of his businesses will be subject to seizure under continuing criminal activity statutes.
One thing that makes the case unusual is Cauble's long history of intolerance for drug users.
In 1974, psychologist Donald Whaley of the Center for Behavioral Studies at North Texas State University treated Cauble's son, Lewis, for what his father termed 'addiction' to marijuana. In appreciation, Cauble threw a benefit Willie Nelson concert to raise money for the center.
His reputation for hating drugs won him a spot on the Dallas Crime Commission and led to his being awarded the honorary title of Special Texas Ranger. At one time Cauble's payroll reportedly included three former Department of Public Safety narcotics agents and one former DPS pilot.
Cauble is the rough-riding, risk-taking, bigger-than-life kind of Texan who inspires myths.
One story has it that when Cauble lost the Las Vegas poker championship in 1978, he simply moved to another table, played a few hands and won back his $10,000 tournament entry fee.
Acquaintances said, although they wouldn't want the gray-haired rancher for an enemy, he made a loyal friend. Some said too loyal, at least where his devotion to former ranch foreman Charles 'Mus:les' Foster was concerned.
Foster, who was hired to train Cauble's world famous show horse Cutter Bill when the golden palomino was 4 years old, turned the animal into the biggest cutting horse champion in Texas.
Over the years, the two men developed what many have called a father and prodigal son relationship.
Mus:les, who was hospitalized several times for treatment of depression, had a habit of disappearing from the ranch. Like the biblical father, Cauble always took him back. Medical records show he even paid his hospital bills.
Upon returning from one disappearance, Foster decided to go into the shrimping business and Cauble called a boat broker and told him someone would be arriving to look at his trawlers, testimony in one of the 'Cowboy Mafia' trials revealed.
Foster and Tennessee millionaire John Ruppel went down to the Gulf Coast and purchased a boat called the Monkey. Documents list the owners as Ruppel and Cauble Enterprises, the broker said.
In 1977, officials said, the Monkey and three other boats made six trips to Colombia, hauling home about 35,000 pounds of marijuana each time. Most of the cargo was unloaded at out of the way locations along the Texas coast and taken to ranches near Denton, Meridian and Crockett - ranches belonging to Cauble, according to testimony.
In 1978, the group allegedly bought a boat called the Agnes Pauline. This time, the Galveston County organized crime unit took notice.
On Nov. 8 that year, authorities said, coastal Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs agents tracked the Agnes Pauline as it headed for Colombia. When it returned to the states to unload, the agents cut the ship off, arresting 10 men and two women and seizing the boat, two semi-trailer trucks, a pickup and about 20 tons of marijuana.
Mus:les Foster was nowhere in sight.
A Beaumont grand jury indicted 24 people. Following various plea bargaining moves and flights, a dozen of the accused went to trial, Sept. 22, 1979. The main government witnesses against them were Cauble employees.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys claimed 'little fish' were protecting the 'big fish.'
Foster finally surfaced in Bolivia, where he was arrested and returned to the United States to stand trial with Ruppel. The jury found Ruppel guilty of conspiracy and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $30,000.
But Foster was found innocent -- by reason of insanity.
Soon after his Aug. 7, 1981, indictment, Cauble, accompanied by his minister, surrendered to a U.S. magistrate. He was released after posting a $25,000 cashier's check to secure a $250,000 bond.
If convicted, Cauble faces from 5 to 20 years on each count, fines totaling $125,000 and forfeiture of his trailer company, his welding supply firm, his Western stores and his banking and ranching interests on the grounds that they were involved in the smuggling operations.
Following his bond hearing, the flamboyant cowboy walked out of a Sherman, Texas, courthouse and into the sunshine.
'I'm innocent and will be vindicated in court,' Cauble said.
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