The Brothers Graham (Part I)

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Later, Clayton became a lobbyist for N-Group Securities. He would be instrumental in persuading officials in six Texas counties that private prisons were the wave of the future and that Mike Graham and his brother Pat were the guys to build them.

West Texas oil and gas magnate Clayton Williams was also favorably impressed by Mike Graham. After buying a Century condo in Austin, Williams gave Graham some money and the use of his corporate name to start a securities business. Graham managed to incorporate Claydesta Securities, but nothing more came of the association. According to Midland consultant Stan Beard, who says he handled Williams' end of the deal, "It was just real obvious after a short period of time that Mike wasn't going to be able to do what we thought we needed done."

Graham took the setback in stride. He might even have taken it as a sign to start a business of his own again. He had learned much at Century, not the least of which was that wealthy people, often as not, might be a coin or two short of a full roll when it came to other areas.

"Oh, he was slick," says a former secretary at Century. "He could sit and talk to people and just talk in circles. The words would form to make sentences, but they didn't make sense. People would ask, 'What do you mean by this?' And he would be like a politician and talk completely around it. After a while, people got to thinking, 'Well, maybe it's me, maybe I'm just not catching it.' I think it was a psychological trick."

Another onetime business associate who has witnessed Mike Graham perform says there is something almost predatory in how he closes a sale -- something about his ability to read a room and then hone in on a mark. Graham had exhibited flashes of that quality in the past. But at Century, he perfected it, and his success convinced him he'd never have to sell forklifts or men's clothes again.

"You can go through life hustling a hundred dollars here and a hundred dollars there," says the former associate. "Or you can just put a few more zeros on the end, talk a little nicer and enjoy it more."


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Brian Wallstin