The Exterminator

Tom DeLay, the bug man from Sugar Land, has always despised environmental regulation. Now, as House majority whip, he's in a position to do something about it.

On November 10, 1994, DeLay and Blankenship settled for an undisclosed sum, with each side promising not to discuss the terms of the settlement. That agreement, though, didn't stop DeLay from putting Blankenship's taped deposition on display the very next day.

"He [DeLay] must have watched that deposition a hundred times," says a Republican volunteer who asked not to be named, "because he could quote things in it verbatim."

Eric Thode, chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, was also present at the congressman's show, and says he thinks that DeLay was dispassionate in his approach to the video.

"It was not going to impact the way they viewed either party," Thode says. "That was my take."

But many of those present were clearly uncomfortable, say two other audience members who asked that their names be withheld. Some were particularly bothered because Blankenship's wife, Jacqueline, had long been one of Fort Bend County's most stalwart Republican campaign leaders.

According to one witness, DeLay offered a running commentary on the video that blasted Blankenship. "I think he enjoyed himself," the witness says. "He was like a kid, laughing, saying, 'Now listen to this, now listen to this.' It was a nauseating performance."

"I do think Tom was trying to show his side," says another witness, "but as soon as it started, I didn't want to be there. I was trying to think of an excuse to get out, but Mona [Stevens, DeLay's local staff director at the time] stood at the door the whole time. It was the kind of thing I didn't want to be in the middle of. My first thought was, where are these other people and do we get to hear their side?"

After DeLay was finished running through Blankenship's deposition, most of the crowd left quickly and without comment, the witness says.

The witness also recalls that DeLay said he was showing the tape because he anticipated that news stories would grow out of the lawsuit. If that was his true motive, he needn't have bothered; the media never looked closely at Blankenship's lawsuit. Though Tom DeLay has often complained that excessive government regulation by the EPA and OSHA is what made it difficult for him to earn a living as an exterminator -- and drove him into politics to do something about it -- Blankenship's lawsuit, as well as another lawsuit DeLay settled with a business associate, suggests a different reason for DeLay's business problems. It's a reason that has nothing to do with DeLay's favorite enemies, government bureaucrats, and everything to do with what was at best sloppy business practices.

Tom DeLay got his start in Houston business during the boom years, when new companies were prospering overnight. After graduating from the University of Houston with a degree in biology in 1970, DeLay worked behind the counter at Redwood Chemical, a company that sold pesticides to exterminating companies. Then around 1973, he started a pest control company called Environmental Services. A few years later, DeLay merged Environmental Services with the larger and better-known Albo Pest Control.

In 1975, seeking to expand his business further, DeLay made a deal with Bob Bartnett, who had become head of the Harris County Mosquito Control District. According to documents in a lawsuit he filed later, DeLay agreed to pay Bartnett $32,000 for three used trucks, spraying equipment and the customer list of Bartnett's company, Entomological Services. DeLay made payments on his note until September 1977, at which time the balance was $24,000. Bartnett says he pressured DeLay to bring the note up to date, but got nowhere. Finally, in 1980 DeLay sued Bartnett for fraud, saying Bartnett had misrepresented the value of Entomological Services and the willingness of its customers to pay higher prices. The suit dragged on until November 1984, when it was ruled that DeLay hadn't succeeded in proving fraud; Bartnett won a final judgment against DeLay for $30,000 and interest.

That judgment was still being carried on Albo's books in April 1986, when Robert Blankenship made a deal to sell his pest control business, A-Abco, to DeLay. In his lawsuit, Blankenship would later claim that he had a profitable business, but, as the result of a divorce, needed cash to settle with his ex-wife for her share. According to documents filed in Blankenship's suit, DeLay and his business partner Darrell Hutto, president of Albo, paid Blankenship $37,000 for the assets he brought to the company, which included a truck, spraying equipment and a list of customers. In addition to cash for the assets of his old company, Blankenship was awarded one-third of the stock in the new Albo corporation, of which DeLay would be chairman, Hutto would be president and Blankenship would be vice president.

Despite his title, Blankenship appears to have taken little interest in Albo's books or corporate affairs until 1993, when he heard that Hutto and DeLay were looking for buyers for the company. He approached Hutto and asked that he be allowed to find a buyer, someone who would let him remain with the company as a partner. According to Blankenship's suit, he found an interested buyer in a pest control operator named Ami Borovick.

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