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Oil, Money, Politics, and the Death of a Prominent Alabama Lawyer

Posted on the 09 July 2012 by Rogershuler @RogerShuler

Oil, Money, Politics, and the Death of a Prominent Alabama Lawyer

William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig

According to the official finding, Alabama lawyer Major Bashinsky shot himself in the head and used duct tape and rope to create the appearance of murder.
The Bashinsky family, at the time of Major's disappearance and death, had been embroiled in contentious litigation involving questions about the whereabouts of tens of millions of dollars. Our review of that lawsuit, which involved proceeds from investments in Oklahoma oil and gas wells, indicates the story behind Major Bashinsky's death might not be as clean and simple as officials want us to believe.
Styled the Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al v. W&H Investments, et al, the lawsuit sought an accounting of at least $37 million Major Bashinsky's father had invested with a firm that has ties to gambling, Republican Party politics, and Alabama's toxic political environment.
Court records show that attorneys for the Bashinsky estate were playing legal hardball, aggressively seeking documents that might have shown blatant incompetence and malfeasance on the part of Fred Wedell and William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, the partners in W&H Investments. Records also indicate that lawyers for Wedell and Hazelrig were not anxious to turn over relevant information in the discovery process, forcing the estate to file at least six motions to compel, all of which were granted.
The lawsuit came to a strange conclusion. With numerous unresolved issues on the table--and with questions about Mr. Bashinsky's investments seemingly unanswered--the parties reached an agreement that was approved by the court on March, 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing. And 12 days after that, his body was found in a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside.
Was there a connection between the bitterly contested lawsuit and the death of a Bashinsky family member? We don't have an answer to that question. But given that a coroner's report provided zero scientific support for a suicide finding, the question at least should have been asked. We've seen no sign that officials looked into it at all.
That's troubling because Chip Hazelrig, one half of the W&H Investments team, has some dubious distinctions in his background. He is a shareholder in Paragon Gaming, with documented ties to the supposedly anti-gambling Alabama GOP--and to former governor Bob Riley and his son, Homewood lawyer Rob Riley.
On the surface, plaintiffs in the lawsuit were asking a simple question: "What happened to Mr. Bashinsky's money? We now are in charge of his business affairs, and for tax and other reasons, we need to know what happened to the $37 million or more that he invested with you."
Slightly beneath the surface, the estate was making some serious charges against Hazelrig and Wedell. Via its first amended complaint, the estate claims in one document, it was "seeking an accounting with respect to Defendants' interactions and dealings with Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. ('Bashinsky') during his lifetime, and further seeking recovery of damages contended to be [owed], including but not limited to damages claimed by virtue of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty . . . "
Nothing we've found in the court file seriously rebuts those allegations. And the record makes clear that Hazelrig and Wedell, as managing partners in various oil and gas partnerships, had a serious duty to Bashinsky. The estate spells it out, citing Code of Alabama 10-8A-403(b). (See court document at the end of this post.)
That code section "requires that a partnership and its partners furnish to the legal representative of a deceased partner all information concerning the partnership's business and affairs."
Mr. Bashinsky and his representatives sought this information while he was still alive. They received a two and one-half page summary that closed with the following statement: "[W]e do not have any documents pertaining to these investments."
Chip Hazelrig and Fred Wedell took $37 million of Sloan Y. Bashinsky's Sr.'s money and invested it in Oklahoma oil and gas ventures, yet they had no documents pertaining to those investments? I've heard of corner lemonade stands that are run with more financial precision than that.
It's easy to understand why Mr. Bashinsky's representatives were not happy with the response to their inquiry while he was alive. And it's even easier to understand why the estate, after his death, felt the need to pursue the matter in an urgent fashion. Assuming Mr. Bashinsky received a healthy return on his investments, more than $100 million might have been at stake. And it appears that Hazelrig and Wedell did not have ready answers for what happened to that money.
Did the estate's aggressive pursuit of an accounting for investments in oil and gas contribute to the death of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr.'s youngest son? We will continue to examine that question in upcoming posts.
(To be continued)
Bashinsky Lawsuit--Motion to Compel1

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