The Sharpstown stock fraud scandal rocked the Capitol in 1971 and 1972 and led to a purging of dozens of lawmakers and far-reaching legislative reform. The name comes from an area of Houston called Sharpstown.
The scandal involved banking legislation sought by Houston banker-developer Frank Sharp. It was approved in a special session in 1969, but vetoed by Governor Frank Smith.
"Federal accusations and then a series of state charges were leveled against nearly two dozen state officials and former state officials. Before normalcy returned, Texas politics had taken a slight shift to the left and had undergone a thorough housecleaning: the incumbent governor was labeled an unindicted coconspirator in a bribery case and lost his bid for reelection; the incumbent speaker of the House of Representatives and two associates were convicted felons; a popular three-term attorney general lost his job; an aggressive lieutenant governor's career was shattered; and half of the legislature was either intimidated out or voted out of office. The scandal centered, initially, on charges that state officials had made profitable quick-turnover bank-financed stock purchases in return for the passage of legislation desired by the financier, Houston businessman Frank W. Sharp. By the time the stock fraud scandal died down, state officials also had been charged with numerous other offenses-including nepotism and use of state-owned stamps to buy a pickup truck.
The political tumult that was to become known as the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal started out meekly, though symbolically, on the day Texas Democrats were gathering in Austin to celebrate their 1970 election victories and inaugurate their top officials. Attorneys for the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, late in the afternoon of January 18, 1971, filed a lawsuit in Dallas federal court alleging stock fraud against former Democratic state attorney general Waggoner Carr, former state insurance commissioner John Osorio, Frank Sharp, and a number of other defendants. The civil suit also was filed against Sharp's corporations, including the Sharpstown State Bank and National Bankers Life Insurance Corporation. But it was deep down in the supporting material of the suit that the SEC lawyers hid the political bombshells. There it was alleged that Governor Preston Smith, state Democratic chairman and state banking board member Elmer Baum, House Speaker Gus Mutscher, Jr., Representative Tommy Shannon of Fort Worth, Rush McGinty (an aide to Mutscher), and others-none of them charged in the SEC's suit-had, in effect, been bribed. The plot, according to the SEC, was hatched by Sharp himself, who wanted passage of new state bank deposit insurance legislation that would benefit his own financial empire. The SEC said the scheme was for Sharp to grant more than $600,000 in loans from Sharpstown State Bank to the state officials, with the money then used to buy National Bankers Life stock, which would later be resold at huge profits as Sharp artificially inflated the value of his insurance company's stock. The quarter-of-a-million-dollar profits were, in fact, made. But they weren't arranged by Sharp, the SEC said, until after Governor Smith made it possible for Sharp's bank bills to be considered at a special legislative session in September 1969, and Mutscher and Shannon then hurriedly pushed the bills through the legislature. (Smith later vetoed the bills on the advice of the state's top bank law experts, but not until he and Baum had made their profits on the bank loan-stock purchase deal.)
The state officials denied all the charges, asserting that they had obtained the bank loans and made the stock purchases purely as business transactions unrelated to the passage of Sharp's bank bills. But as the spring of 1971 droned into summer, political pressure mounted on Smith, Baum, Mutscher, and Shannon-even on Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes, who had been connected in several tangential ways to Frank Sharp, his companies, and the bank bills. By the fall of 1971, when Mutscher and his associates were indicted, the politics of 1972 had begun to take shape. Incumbents moved as far away as possible, politically, from the "old system" and the current state leaders. New candidates came forward, some of them literally with no governmental experience, under a "throw the rascals out" banner."
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