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Monday, May 3, 2010

Florida Visit Adds Twist to Major Bashinsky Case

A Birmingham businessman who has ties to Governor Bob Riley met in Key West, Florida, with the brother of Major Bashinsky--two days before Bashinsky's body was found in a golf-course pond.

William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig--who has interests in real estate, oil, gaming, and investments--met with Sloan Bashinsky Jr., Major's older brother, on March 13. Major Bashinsky, a prominent Alabama attorney, had been reported missing on March 3, and his body was discovered on March 15. The death has been ruled a suicide, but we have noted a number of reasons to question that finding in posts here and here.

Sloan Bashinsky discloses the Hazelrig meeting in a post today at his blog, goodmorningfloridakeys.com. One of Hazelrig's companies, W&H Investments, had been involved in a lawsuit with the Estate of Sloan Bashinsky in the weeks and months leading up to Major Bashinsky's disappearance. Court documents indicate a settlement in the lawsuit was approved on March 1, two days before Major Bashinsky was reported missing.

Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the late father of Sloan Jr. and Major, was the CEO of Golden Enterprises, maker of Golden Flake snack foods. According to court documents, Bashinsky Sr. invested some $37 million with W&H Investments, mostly in oil wells, over a number of years. Fred Wedell is Hazelrig's partner in the investment firm.

The Estate of Sloan Bashinsky sued W&H Investments, seeking an accounting of funds Bashinsky Sr. had invested with the firm. Court documents indicate W&H was not forthcoming with information, and lawyers for the estate had to file seven motions seeking to compel the defendants to turn over information.

Court records indicate discovery issues still were in dispute when the parties abruptly reached a settlement on January 27, 2010. The agreement called for W&H to pay the estate $300,000. The court approved the settlement on March 1.

Major Bashinsky was reported missing two days later. And 10 days after that, Chip Hazelrig appeared unannounced in Key West, Florida, seeking a meeting with Sloan Bashinsky Jr.

In a post dated March 14, Bashinsky references a meeting the day before with an unnamed visitor from Birmingham, a man who had provided investment advice to his father for roughly 20 years. In today's post, Bashinsky reveals the visitor was Chip Hazelrig.

What prompted Bashinsky to reveal that information? Lori Moore, a reporter with the houstoncountynewsonline.com, had sent Bashinsky an e-mail, saying that she was investigating his brother's death and asking for an interview. Moore notes in the e-mail that she is aware of the lawsuit involving Hazelrig and Wedell--and their connections to Governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood attorney Rob Riley. She also notes that she has seen documents that call the suicide ruling into question.

In an e-mail reply, Bashinsky references Moore's "theory" that Riley and/or Hazelrig had Major Bashinsky killed--even though Moore had expressed no such theory. Sloan Bashinsky then writes:

If Chip Hazelrig had had anything to do with Major’s death, the angels assigned to me would have told me right after Chip and I met in Key West, after he had miraculously located my cell phone number through a bizarre series of encounters with Key West people he did not know, who knew me well. Chip had come to Key West on a fishing trip with a friend from south Florida about a week after Major went missing. He got burned out fishing and was knocking around town, waiting on his friend to come back in to the dock. He decided to try to look me up because he had been in business with my father and Major had gone missing. I don’t think I’d ever met Chip, nor did I know anything about him, although I had heard his name.

We talked about an hour, mostly about his relationship with my father. I did not know they’d had business dealings for 20 years (as I recall the time span). The way Chip described my father and their business relationship, there was no doubt my father knew Chip and liked him. Chip described what sounded to me like a spurious lawsuit my father’s widow, Joann, and my father’s accountant, Owen Simms, and the former CEO of my father’s company, John Stein, as Trustees of my father’s estate, had filed against Chip and his business partner. I told Chip it sounded like something those three would do, and said his loose-handshake business dealings with my father was something my father would do. When Chip told me of a meeting Joann and Stein had demanded my father attend with Chip, and of my father telling then at that meeting to stay out of his business dealings with Chip and his partner, I said that sounded like my father and was what had caused those three to sue Chip and his business partner after my father died and was out of the picture.

Sloan Bashinsky describes the meeting with Hazelrig as pleasant, and he seems to consider it happenstance that Hazelrig would appear in Key West just days after Major Bashinky had disappeared--and days after a settlement had been reached in a lawsuit with the Sloan Bashinsky estate.

Perhaps Sloan Bashinsky is right about the coincidental nature of Chip Hazelrig's visit. But perhaps Hazelrig's actions, along with details about the lawsuit against W&H Investments, deserve further scrutiny.

We know this much about Chip Hazelrig:

* He has some 20 traffic offenses on his record, and his driver's license has been suspended six times. In his most recent driving misadventure (that we know of), Hazelrig was clocked driving 112 mph in a 55 zone on Highway 280;

* Despite Hazelrig's dismal driving record, UAB was more than happy to take a $5 million gift from him in order to help construct a new radiation-oncology facility on campus. It's the largest individual donation in university history;

* Hazelrig gave $10,000 to Bob Riley's campaign for governor in 2002. That's the election in which Riley defeated Democrat Don Siegelman when votes in Baldwin County mysteriously disappeared overnight;

* Hazelrig is a stockholder in Paragon Gaming, a Las Vegas-based outfit that was formed in 2000 to help Indian tribes develop casino gambling on their reservations;

* Both Hazelrig and Rob Riley have had ties to a company in Tuscaloosa called Crimsonica. The company is run by Robert Sigler, who was the principal founder of Paragon Gaming. And who was once an attorney and board member for Crimsonica? Rob Riley.

So you can see why Lori Moore was asking questions about Chip Hazelrig, the Rileys, and the W&H Investments lawsuit. Any good reporter would ask such questions, especially when there is no known scientific evidence proving that Major Bashinsky committed suicide.

Sloan Bashinsky accepts the suicide finding, but he writes about the dismal performance of Alabama's mainstream press on the story:

The News’ reporting of the coroner’s and law enforcement’s findings was the sorriest piece of reporting I have seen in my life, which is saying something, because I’ve had a lot of dealings with newspapers. You can quote me on that, if, and only if, you quote this entire email verbatim in what you write in what your newspaper publishes. If you and your newspaper quote me without including this entire email verbatim, and I learn of it, you will see yourself and your newspaper highlighted on my websites, goodmorningkeyfloridakeys.com and goodmorningkeywest.com.

We have provided a link to Sloan's post, which includes the full e-mail, so we are respecting his wishes. And we encourage Legal Schnauzer readers to examine the exchange between Sloan and Lori Moore.

What do we take from today's developments? We think it shows there are many valid questions that remain about the death of Major Bashinsky.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A university should turn down a $5 million donation because of the donor's "dismal driving record"?