Transferring assets

Two teens are shuttled back and forth across the country as their mother and father (belatedly) fight over who gets to keep them

That same stress on discipline and structure that had spelled success for this organizational man was spurned by Theresa Crane in raising the children. Her notion of family was a foundation of openness and relative freedom and exploration together. They'd gone with her to stay in tepees on Indian reservations and wilderness trips. She's introduced them to alternative therapies, herbal medicines and an astrologer or two. That New Age approach widened the clash with her ex-husband's old-line ideas.

As Jenkins put it, the mother is downright "flaky." Kathryn Geiger, the mother's attorney, summed up the conflicts: "Jim and Theresa Crane are at opposite ends of the earth."

Jim had the kids seized and flown back to Houston.
David Hollenbach
Jim had the kids seized and flown back to Houston.
Jared and Krystal became pawns in a prolonged court battle.
Deron Neblett
Jared and Krystal became pawns in a prolonged court battle.

There was hardly a vast divide between the Cranes when they arrived in Houston in 1982. Theresa was pregnant with Jared and had her daughter from her previous marriage. Jim was at the wheel of a car towing a U-Haul trailer containing their life's possessions.

He was the ex-college jock with an industrial safety degree and a few unimpressive years as a claims adjuster for Home Insurance Company in St. Louis. Theresa was administrative assistant for the company when they first encountered each other.

"I felt like I had known him a long time when I first met him," Theresa says. "I'm sure it was a karmic connection." They got divorced from their spouses and she followed him on his transfer to Kansas City, where they were married. Times were tough. Jim got an offer to come to Houston to work for a friend at an air freight business, and they were on their way to Texas, where Krystal was born in 1984.

Before long, they realized the potential of the expanding business of air cargo. Jim learned most aspects of the industry in his work, and Theresa applied her office managerial skills for them to kick-start a firm of their own. Eagle USA Airfreight opened with one employee, a truck and a forklift. Within a few years, there were 300 employees and international offices.

The cost was steep, at least in terms of family tranquility. Theresa, now looking out after Jared and Krystal as well as her daughter from her first marriage, wanted Jim as well.

"We were making a million-a-year in that business by then," she says. "I was very content with that and wanted to really stay home more and raise the children. He said he didn't have time, that he wanted to make his business very big, have lots more money and airplanes and things like thatŠ He was driven by that time. I thought we could gear down -- he couldn't."

Theresa says money wasn't his sole motivator.

"He was gone a lot. I realized he was using the business to lead a sort of double life. He had that same trait when I first married him. I just didn't recognize it then." By the late '80s, she knew his other side, she says. Theresa tells of "losing it" one night, after another evening of waiting for him to return home from what he said was a golf round with important clients.

She got a friend to watch the children, then drove by some of his haunts. She found his car in the lot of a topless club where she knew the company regularly "entertained" executives and found her husband inside.

Jim and his attorneys declined to talk to the Houston Press, so the only version of marital split is that of his ex-wife's.

However, some eerie parallels to her story have surfaced. Earlier this month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says EGL Eagle Global, formerly known as Eagle USA, should pay $20 million to settle one of the larger discrimination cases ever pursued by the agency. Investigators accused Eagle -- in some cases, Jim Crane himself -- of secret policies against hiring or promoting minorities and women, and threatening those who cooperated with the probe. Crane, the EEOC alleged, told company supervisors not to hire women in their child-bearing years saying there was the potential for low productivity.

Company officials deny the EEOC allegations, including charges that the company regularly issued reimbursements for officials who entertained valued clients at strip clubs and bought them the favors of lap dancers and prostitutes.

Those alleged practices weren't mentioned by Jim in an 1998 interview for Investor's Business Daily. He told of richly rewarding productive employees and stressing clear lines of communications. His advice on success: "Be concise and -- above all -- be honest."

Theresa says she never recovered from the night she tracked Jim to the club. But she also didn't divorce Jim. Outwardly, this was a family displaying the ultimate jewels of success -- children, flashy cars and the obligatory country club membership. Along with that was a permanent chill settling in over the Crane household. "It got to where we just couldn't be together anymore," says Theresa. "I knew the end was there."

Jim sued for divorce in 1990. Theresa countersued, alleging adultery and other misdeeds. Both enlisted top-notch divorce attorneys and set about trying to divvy up community assets of almost $2 million.

With them being the only directors of the company, she hit him with accusations that he was draining corporate assets with checks ranging up to $411,000. She attacked him for making $220,000 in transfers to his profit sharing plan. A company attorney tactfully advised in a letter that "it would be helpful if the issue with Mrs. Crane could be satisfactorily resolved in a manner that would not cause this issue to be presented to the IRS."

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