by BRAD ROLLINS
WIMBERLEY — The former Fulton Ranch – one of Hays County’s legendary spreads – has been sold by the estate of John O’Quinn, the brilliant and troubled Houston attorney who found respite along the banks of the Blanco River.
County records show the property sold to a holding company owned by McAllen-based L&F Distributors, an Anheuser-Busch beer distributor with locations in Alice, Alpine, Beeville, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Harlingen, Laredo, McAllen, Rio Grande City and Roswell, N.M. The company is owned by the LaMantia family who are also lead investors in the yet-to-be-built Laredo Downs horseracing track.
“From everything I know about the La Mantias, they are a perfect fit for Hays County. They will be good neighbors and good stewards of the land,” said San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting, a former Texas Democratic Party chair and O’Quinn law partner.
When O’Quinn died in October 2009 in an automobile wreck, the 5,000-acre O’Quinn River Ranch was serving as collateral on a $48 million loan, Texas Monthly reported in February 2011 in an extensive story about the fight over O’Quinn’s estate. O’Quinn borrowed the money against the property shortly after his nemesis, Joe Jamail, won a $40 million judgement against O’Quinn in a lawsuit brought by women who alleged O’Quinn over-billed them during a suit against breast implant manufacturers.
In his 2008 will, O’Quinn left his personal property to the John M. O’Quinn Foundation and provided for the law firm that bears his name, to wind down. The super lawyer’s longtime companion, Darla Lexington, argues that she was O’Quinn’s common-law wife and, if she wasn’t, that he breached his fiduciary duty as her attorney by not informing her she needed her own counsel to look after her financial interests.
Lexington – who exchanged rings and unofficial vows with O’Quinn during a ceremony at the ranch in 2003 – says O’Quinn promised her 750 acres of the ranch, $20 million and 27 of the classic cars they collected together, according to the Texas Monthly piece. But the estate contends that she has no legal standing to make claims on O’Quinn’s inheritance beyond a $1.85 million life insurance policy he bought in her name.
At the time of his death, O’Quinn had $180 million in debts, the executor of his estate, South Texas College of Law professor T. Gerald Treece, told Texas Lawyer magazine. That number was down to $105 million in November and was expected to fall further with the sale of the ranch and car collection.
The fight over O’Quinn’s estate has extended even to his body itself. As part of legal wrangling over Lexington’s legal status, the estate won permission to move O’Quinn’s body from a mausoleum at the ranch to a small plot near the river at the ranch’s edge.
The fight over the family cemetery’s location sparked concern from Wimberley residents who read it as a sign that the scenic ranch was being marketed as development property.
It’s not clear what the La Mantias have in mind for the tract. Messages left for Joe La Mantia at his beer distributorship and for ranch manager Rocky Romano were not returned.
BRAD ROLLINS reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.