Brown blames newspaper reporters for being so stupid. They don't know anything, he says, and they are too lazy to look it up. He proceeded to test me.
"Do you know the difference between a bribe and a kickback?" he demanded.
I said I would like him to explain.
"If you know anything at all about these things," Brown said, "you'll realize that the money I paid MacDonald was a kickback, not a bribe. Everybody knows that the only way you can do business with them, no matter who they are, is to give them kickbacks. And that's the way it will always be."
In case you don't know how the Big Boquillas Ranch sale went down, allow me to explain.
For years, MacDonald, an engineering graduate of the University of Oklahoma, had been the most powerful Native American leader in the country.
Brown, who twice ran for Congress, was a MacDonald contributor during MacDonald's fourth and final campaign for tribal chairman. By this time, they had known each other a dozen years.
After the election, Brown invited MacDonald and his family to take a trip to Hawaii with him for rest and recreation. It was during the vacation that Brown outlined his scheme.
Brown, who had a real estate license, would go to the Tenneco West Corporation of Bakersfield, California, which wanted to sell the ranch. He would offer to find a buyer. In fact, Brown did this so convincingly that he also arranged to receive a $750,000 bonus from Tenneco.
Brown would enlist Tom Tracy, another Scottsdale businessman, as his partner. Brown would identify Tracy as the buyer. They would put down $100,000 to hold the $26 million property and then sell it immediately to the tribe for about $33 million.
Brown told MacDonald the profit would be split three ways. Brown, Tracy and MacDonald would make a handsome profit, and the tribe would have added an important piece of land.
Brown and Tracy split the millions. MacDonald got several thousand dollars and the use of a BMW automobile for which he had to pay $900 per month.
Brown was no stranger to imaginative financial schemes. Over the years, many had not succeeded. But that never kept Brown from hatching new plans.
In 1970, Brown tried to sell the City of Phoenix on an aerial tramway that would run from Phoenix Civic Plaza to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
He had already suffered severe financial damage from his operation of a tram that took tourists from Custer, South Dakota, to a 5,750-foot-high peak in the Black Hills. The problem in those days was a lack of tourists for the Black Hills.
Several years later, Brown went to Washington, D.C., and tried to get the contract to build the Alaska pipeline.
It was in 1974, when he ran for Congress in District 4 against archconservative John Conlan, that Brown first met MacDonald.
Brown, a Democrat, lost that race by 16,000 votes, and he noted that most of the votes against him came from the Navajo reservation. He realized it would be important to cultivate MacDonald.
Brown's long friendship with MacDonald was always the key to getting his deal done.
Brown did not have the money to be dealing in this league. For that, you must give him chutzpah points. All he brought to the deal was imagination, greed and a risky plan. There was always a good chance the deal could fall apart.
Tenneco never had a clue that Brown was obtaining the property only to flip it for his own huge profit.
So the ranch was purchased for $26.2 million. And then Brown and Tracy sold it to the tribe--minutes later--for $33.4 million. The profit came to more than $7 million.
According to government records, Brown's share of the profit was nearly $5 million, while Tracy got more than $2 million. MacDonald got a down payment of $25,000 in the form of a loan and the use of a leased BMW.
Oh, yes, he also got sent to a federal prison cell in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The government worked hard to attempt to prevent Brown from getting away with all the money. The Arizona Attorney General's Office saw to it that Brown's real estate license was revoked and that he was fined $11,000.
Some might think that's a mere slap on the wrist. But Brown considers it an outrage, and plans to appeal.