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Texas swindler Billie Sol Estes dead at 88

By Marice Richter

DALLAS (Reuters) - Billie Sol Estes, a flamboyant Texan who was convicted of bilking millions of dollars from a federal crop subsidy program, died on Tuesday at age 88, police said.

Estes, whose exploits in the 1960s captured headlines across the country, was found dead in his home in Granbury, a town about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth, said Lieutenant Johnny Rose of the Hood County Sheriff's office.

He died of natural causes, according to a statement from the sheriff's office.

Estes obtained more than $20 million a year for growing and storing non-existent crops of cotton, according to a website, www.billiesolestes.com, created by his daughter, Pamela Estes Padget.

The scandal involved phony financial statements and led to the resignation of several agriculture officials at the time.

Estes was convicted of conspiracy to defraud in 1965. He was released in 1971 and later found guilty of mail fraud and tax evasion. He was sentenced again to prison and released in 1983.

Estes was frequently mentioned as an associate of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson's former aides said the relationship was not close as Estes described.

Estes co-authored a book published in France in 2003 claiming Johnson was linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a popular conspiracy theory that has been widely dismissed by leading historians.

Born poor, Estes became a well-known Texas businessman and a millionaire by his early 30s after starting a company that sold fertilizer and irrigation products.

Padget, the oldest of his five children, wrote a book about her father called "Billie Sol Estes - King of Texas Wheeler Dealers."

"He had the highest highs and the lowest lows," she said. "He was a friend and enemy of some of the most powerful men in the country."

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Tim Dobbyn)

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