Following disclosure last week that Austin billionaire Robert F. Smith had reached a $140 million tax evasion settlement, more information has emerged from federal authorities and other sources.
Smith is Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a $58 billion private equity firm with 400 direct employees and thousands more working in its portfolio companies. Perched on top of Austin's Frost Bank Tower, Vista's Austin office was founded in 2011 and is one of five offices throughout the U.S.
Smith, 57, lives in Austin's Westlake area, overlooking Lake Austin. The son of two Colorado school teachers, his net worth is estimated by Forbes to be more than $5 billion. He is regarded as the country's wealthiest Black person.
Smith is cooperating with federal investigators in exchange for non-prosecution
Smith is assisting federal authorities in their investigation of Houston resident Robert Brockman, 79. Charged with hiding $2 billion in income over 20 years in the nation's largest-ever personal tax fraud case, the feds say Brockman filed false tax returns and concealed overseas cash.
Brockman was the original investor who funded Smith's creation of Vista.
At a Thursday press conference, at which Smith's behavior was called "egregious," the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California David Anderson announced Brockman's indictment and Smith's cooperation agreement. Anderson said that Smith will be responsible for the following:
- Providing complete and truthful information
- Continuing work with federal prosecutors
- Attending meetings and providing documents
- Testifying before a grand jury
Money in offshore accounts was used for Smith's extravagant personal real estate
A copy of Smith's signed Oct. 7 settlement letter with the government reveals that Smith routed untaxed gains through offshore partnerships and bank accounts in Belize, Nevis, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.
Smith admitted to concealing more than $200 million in income and evading subsequent taxes during a 15-year period, from 2000 to 2015.
While much of the money was routed to Smith's charitable trust, the settlement letter states that substantial funds were withdrawn for personal use in real estate acquisitions and remodeling projects, including:
- A home in Sonoma County, California that he owned with his then-wife
- A Colorado ranch property that he used personally and at which he hosted events for disadvantaged youth and wounded war veterans
- Two ski chalets in the French Alps used by Smith and his family
- A European industrial property
Smith's settlement is larger than originally stated
According to documents signed by Smith, he has agreed to:
- Pay $139 million in taxes and penalties
- Abandon a $182 million tax refund claim
- Pay interest on taxes owed
Cloudy reports at Vista
Axios reports that Smith held a call with top Vista executives last week, in which he discussed his tax settlement and disclosed that his longtime billionaire associate, Vista co-founder and president Brian N. Sheth, would be leaving the company. Axios referred to a "breakdown in the two men's relationship."
Vista's situation is unclear as investors are alarmed and the SEC, according to Axios, is poised to investigate whether Smith will be allowed to continue to run the firm.
Authorities deny that Smith's connections were a factor
U.S. Attorney Anderson specifically denied, in response to a direct question, that Smith's charitable involvements and political connections were a factor in the decision not to prosecute him.
Smith famously repaid student loans last year for all graduates of Atlanta's Morehouse College. His list of philanthropic efforts is extensive, and in 2019 he was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
During the investigation period, Smith had cultivated relationships with people close to President Donald Trump, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president's daughter, Ivanka, according to various reports.
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Actor, director and screenwriter Justin Theroux isn't the only famous member of his family. His canine companion Kuma made waves online this past weekend supporting Austin Pets Alive!—and Jennifer Aniston is a fan.
Theroux launched Kuma's own Instagram account on Saturday with a link to Austin Pets Alive!'s website in her bio. And the grey pitbull mix is already garnering the kind of attention worthy of her movie star dad: As of Monday night, she has over 55,000 followers.
Chief among them is Jennifer Aniston, who posted a photo of Theroux and his newly online dog on her Instagram story yesterday with fond words for the Austin shelter.
"Love what these two are doing to help people who help pups who help people," the 'Friends' star, and Theroux's ex-wife, wrote. "They helped save 60 pups at Austin Pets Alive! yesterday."
Theroux began volunteering at the shelter while filming 'The Leftovers' in Austin when he fell in love with the shelter's pitbulls, according to Dr. Ellen Jefferson, Austin Pets Alive! president and CEO.
"We are thrilled that he and Kuma are spreading the word about the work APA! is doing and the need to keep Austin no-kill," she said, referring to the shelter's commitment to save animals most at risk for euthenasia.
Theroux adopted his mut in 2018 after Kuma was rescued—dirty and injured—from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey by A Chance to Bloom Dog Rescue, based in Conroe, Texas.
While Kuma is not from APA!, Theroux connected with the Conroe-based non-profit while visiting the Austin shelter, and he has remained "an enthusiastic supporter" ever since, Jefferson said.
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Six days a week, thousands of onlookers tune in to live streams to watch the pros rake it all in at high-stakes poker tournaments. The big-name poker players aren't in Las Vegas or even Oklahoma's finest casinos—instead, they're where Texas Hold 'Em gets its name.
Gambling may be illegal in Texas, but over a hundred poker houses are using a loophole to open up shop across the state, especially in Austin and Dallas.
The classic poker game is finally getting played for real cash around the Lone Star State thanks to an exception in Texas' gambling ban that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
It's a business strategy that's gone (mostly) unchallenged by Texas politicians, especially as the industry begins to heat up.
Austin may now have around 20 poker houses around town, but it wasn't long ago that one stood alone like a small town saloon. The city's premiere poker house, Texas Card House, was founded in 2015 and has since grown to include a YouTube channel with over 30,000 subscribers, a wide range of gameplay and regular visits from big-name poker gurus like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
David Lagana, a content creator who has worked in college sports and Hollywood, was brought into the scene in May as the house's live streams began to blow up. He said the live streaming battleground is only beginning.
"The space is ever-growing," Lagana said. "It's been interesting to try and find a lane that everybody can succeed. It's all about finding something that people want to watch on a nightly basis."
Can Player BLUFF Andrew Neeme and Brad Owen on LIVE Stream?
Watch now - https://t.co/4Wt4s5Z0V7@TheBradOwen @andrewneeme pic.twitter.com/Yg4R0c0sj2
— Texas Card House (@texascardhouse) August 25, 2021
Carolyn Hapgood, who has worked for Texas Card House for three years, has made a name for herself as a live stream producer, dealer and player herself with the company. She's seen Texas Card House grow from a two-room card house to the most well-known poker venue in Austin with another branch in Dallas.
"It was a teeny tiny little house with five tables, and that was the first legal card house in the state," Hapgood said. "And since then it's blown up."
Texas Card House dealer Carolyn Hapgood has been working with Austin's premier poker house since 2018. (Texas Poker House Austin/Facebook)
From $100 pots to buy-ins of $15,000 or more, Texas Card House has it all, especially as in-state players learn more about the game. Hapgood said there isn't really a typical poker player at the house—instead, the poker table forms an "interesting little ecosystem" that includes college students, a 93-year old Vietnam War veteran, online gamblers, old-school players and everyone in between. The diversity at the table has been enhanced even further by COVID as people clamor to return to in-person events.
But Texas Card House no longer holds a "royal flush" in Austin's poker culture. The Lodge, based in Round Rock, is now expanding to over 60 tables, the largest in Texas, while Palms Social Club, owned by Texas Card Houses' original owner Sam Von Kennel, brought service staff and a refined atmosphere to the Austin scene.
Hapgood said the base of poker players is very large and continues to grow, forming a community as players form friendships on and off the table.
"My favorite part of the poker community is how much fun we have," Hapgood said. "You sit at a table with eight of your friends, everyone's kind of just having a good time. There's a lot of players who will, you know, call or text each other after they're done playing, and they end up inviting each other barbecues, and going out to dinner with their families and stuff like that... those are my favorite people to hang out with."
Getting involved in the poker scene is as easy as tuning into a live stream, and Lagana hopes to see more outsiders like himself get inspired by poker in the future.
"It's kind of like life," Lagana said. "Life isn't just one hand to play... you're only in control of sort of what's in your hand (and) you can't play the card that you weren't dealt with. So it's really been a fascinating life lesson for me."
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From four-time Grammy-nominee turned big-screen actor, Black Pumas frontman Eric Burton will debut in the sci-fi short film "Devexity," which is written, directed by and stars Austinites.
The film, brought to life by Austin-based filmmaker Luke Lidell, will premiere on Oct. 7 at the Native Hostel while Burton is in town for Austin City Limits Fest. Then, "Devexity" will head off to film festival screenings, according to a report by The Austin Chronicle.
Following Burton as the film's protagonist, named Jean, "Devexity" takes place across several different settings and surfaces an existential response from the watcher. Burton stars alongside fellow Austinites Ali Pentecost, Dominique Pitts and New Yorker Madison Murrah in the partially black-and-white film.
The film was shot over the course of four days in October 2020, which Lidell said was a challenge of "focus" and "trust" to create. With a variety of scenes and intertwining narratives, the film dives into the topic of virtual reality.
A musician in addition to a filmmaker, Lidell previously directed the film "Telekinetic" in 2018. The script for "Devexity" was written by Lidell with Burton in mind for the lead after meeting him during a music video project in 2017—Lidell said Burton helped him shape the characters along the way.
Now that the door has been opened for work between Burton and Lidell, you're likely to see the pair collaborate again—a Black Pumas documentary is being rumored.
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