MEXICO CITY — `I'VE had a .38-caliber revolver held to my head," says Texas businessman Bill Flanigan. "And my attorney's kids have been threatened to force him to drop the case."
But the threats have not deterred Mr. Flanigan. He persists in trying to collect on some $450 million that Texas courts say the Mexican National Oil Workers Union owes him.
Flanigan has frozen 33 bank accounts and even temporarily seized President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's private jet.
So far, he has collected just $750,000 and a stack of lawyer bills.
"The North American Free Trade Agreement should be more like the European Community. They have an entity with a 13-member panel of judges from all countries that can enforce judgments over business disputes," Flanigan says.
His problems started in 1984 when he signed a contract in Houston to buy 6 million barrels of residual waste oil from Mexico's state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) union.
Union leaders typically received a large cut from every Pemex contract in exchange for labor docility.
But the oil never arrived. A Texas court ruled in 1986 that the Pemex union owed Flanigan $92 million for breach of contract.
The union refused to honor the US court ruling. In 1987, Flanigan settled for $750,000 plus another, bigger residual oil contract. This batch was not delivered either.
Flanigan won a second judgment in 1989 for $181 million. The union said it did not have the money.
For other corruption-related charges, the Salinas administration jailed many Pemex union leaders in 1989. The new union leaders agreed to another contract. Nothing was delivered.
Flanigan sued Pemex and the union in a US federal court, claiming a violation of the US Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act. He won damages of more than $1 billion.
Last year, a US Court of Appeals overturned the ruling and the US Supreme Court turned down a request to hear his case. Meanwhile, in Texas, Pemex union lawyers are trying to overturn the 1989 ruling. Time has expired for appealing the first $92 million judgment.
"Including interest, I have judgments totaling $450 million but I have no way in the world to collect them," Flanigan says. "I hear Mexico's new attorney general is a man of integrity. I hope and pray that's true."
Pemex union officials did not return phone calls requesting information about the case.