it's nice to be Neil Bush.
you're Neil Bush, rich people from all over
the world are eager to invest money in your
businesses, even though your businesses have
a history of crashing and burning in spectacular
you're Neil Bush, you'll be sitting in a hotel
room in Thailand or Hong Kong, minding your
own business, when suddenly there's a knock
at the door. You answer it and a comely woman
strolls in and has sex with you.
sure is fun when you're Neil Bush, son of one
president, brother of another.
how much fun was revealed in a deposition taken
last March, during Bush's very nasty divorce
battle. Asked by his wife's attorney whether
he'd had any extramarital affairs, Bush told
the story of his Asian hotel room escapades.
Bush," said the attorney, Marshall Davis Brown,
"you have to admit that it's a pretty remarkable
thing for a man just to go to a hotel room door
and open it and have a woman standing there
and have sex with her."
was very unusual," Bush replied.
it wasn't that unusual. It happened at least
three or four times during Bush's business trips
to Asia, he said: "I don't remember the exact
they prostitutes?" asked Brown.
don't -- I don't know," Neil replied.
you pay them?"
surprisingly, the revelation made headlines
around the world. Equally unsurprisingly, the
sex story overshadowed the curious financial
revelations that came out in the same deposition.
2002, for instance, Bush signed a consulting
contract with Grace Semiconductor -- a Shanghai-based
company managed in part by the son of former
Chinese president Jiang Zemin. Bush's contractual
duties consist solely of attending board meetings
and discussing "business strategies." For this,
he is to be paid $2 million in company stock
over five years, plus $10,000 for every board
meeting he attends.
you have absolutely no educational background
in semiconductors, do you Mr. Bush?" Brown asked.
correct," Bush responded.
back home in Texas, Bush serves as co-chairman
of a company called Crest Investment. Crest,
he revealed in the deposition, pays him $60,000
a year to provide "miscellaneous consulting
as?" Brown asked.
as answering phone calls when Jamal Daniel,
the other co-chairman, called and asked for
advice," Bush replied.
it's nice to be Neil Bush, who seems to be living
the lifestyle immortalized in those famous Dire
Straits lyrics: "Money for nothin' and chicks
Bush is the latest manifestation of a long tradition
in American life -- the president's embarrassing
was Sam Houston Johnson, who used to get drunk
and start blabbing to the press until his brother,
Lyndon, sicced the Secret Service on him.
Donald Nixon, who dreamed of founding a fast-food
chain called Nixonburgers and who accepted,
but never repaid, a $200,000 loan from billionaire
Howard Hughes. His brother, Dick, had the Secret
Service tap his phone.
Billy Carter, who drank prodigious quantities
of beer, authored a book called "Redneck Power"
and took $200,000 from the government of Libya.
Roger Clinton, a party animal who spent a year
in prison for cocaine dealing and who later
appeared in a movie called "Pumpkinhead II"
playing a pol called Mayor Bubba.
Neil Bush has surpassed them all. Bush has done
something that no other American has ever accomplished:
He has become the embarrassing relative of not
one but two presidents.
the late '80s and early '90s, Bush embarrassed
his father, George H.W. Bush, with his shady
dealings as a board member of the infamous Silverado
Savings and Loan, whose collapse cost taxpayers
Bush has embarrassed his brother George W. Bush
with a made-for-the-tabloids divorce that featured
paternity rumors, a defamation suit and, believe
it or not, allegations of voodoo.
Bush's career as an embarrassment may not be
over. At 48, he is still relatively young and,
judging from his deposition, still virile and
vigorous. If his brother Jeb, governor of Florida,
is ever elected president, Neil could conceivably
embarrass him, too, pulling off an unprecedented
hat trick of presidential embarrassment.
it's time for a mid-career retrospective on
the life and work of Neil Bush.
maybe not. His father, mother, brothers and
ex-wife all declined to be interviewed. White
House spokeswoman Claire Buchan uttered a curt
also declined to be interviewed, although he
agreed to respond to e-mailed questions, provided
they did not pertain to his divorce. He reports
that he's too involved with Ignite!, his educational
software company, to pay much attention to media
coverage of his misadventures.
he writes via e-mail, "I'm too busy being a
good father and promoting Ignite! to worry about
that kind of thing."
Mallon Bush was born in 1955 and named after
his grandfather's Yale buddy Neil Mallon, the
corporate CEO who gave George H.W. Bush his
first job in the Texas oil business.
third of the five Bush children, Neil was so
thoughtful and helpful that siblings dubbed
him "Mr. Perfect."
Neil had trouble reading, and a counselor at
St. Albans prep school in Washington told his
mother he might not graduate. His problem was
dyslexia, and his mother spent countless weekends
taking him to special reading lessons.
worked. He graduated, then went to Tulane University,
where he received a degree in international
economics and, in 1979, an MBA. That year, while
working on his father's unsuccessful campaign
for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination,
Neil met Sharon Smith, whom his mother later
described in her memoirs as "a darling young
schoolteacher from New Hampshire."
married in 1980 and moved to Denver, where Neil
got a $30,000 job negotiating mineral leases
for Amoco. Denver was an oil-fueled boomtown,
and soon the handsome son of the vice president
was charming the swells at the soirees of Denver's
1982, Neil and two co-workers quit and formed
an oil exploration company, JNB Exploration.
His partners were geologists; Neil was in charge
of raising money.
knew people because of his name," one partner,
Evans Nash, said later.
the people Neil knew were two high-powered Denver
real estate barons -- Bill Walters and Ken Good.
Walters was a flamboyant Rolex-wearing, Rolls-driving
mogul known as "the Donald Trump of Denver."
Good owned the largest home in Colorado, a $10
million mansion with a special plumbing system
that pumped Scotch, gin and vodka throughout
listening to Bush's sales pitch, Walters invested
$150,000 and set up a $1.75 million line of
credit for JNB at a bank he owned. Good invested
$10,000 and pledged loans worth $1.5 million.
Good also lent Bush $100,000 to gamble in the
commodities market and said Neil didn't have
to pay it back unless he made money.
was," Bush later admitted, "an incredibly sweet
set up an office, decorated it with a bust of
his father and paid himself $66,000 a year --
double his Amoco salary. But JNB floundered.
In five years, the company drilled 26 wells
in four states, but it never found a drop of
exploitable oil. JNB would have gone bankrupt
if not for the money from Walters and Good.
Bush was able to help the men who helped him.
In 1985 he joined the board of Silverado Savings
and Loan, which had already lent millions to
Walters and Good. Over the next three years,
Silverado lent an additional $106 million to
Walters and $35 million to Good, although the
two men's real estate empires were collapsing.
used some of that money to buy JNB, although
it was still losing money. He raised Bush's
salary to $120,000 and awarded him a bonus of
$22,000. He also hired Bush as a director of
one of his companies, at a salary of $100,000.
Good nor Walters ever repaid a nickel of their
Silverado loans, and in 1988 Silverado went
belly up, leaving U.S. taxpayers holding the
bag for $1.3 billion in debts.
through the wreckage, regulators from the federal
Office of Thrift Supervision concluded in 1991
that Bush's deals with Good and Walters while
serving on Silverado's board constituted "multiple
conflicts of interest." Bush became a public
symbol of the $500 billion savings and loan
scandal. Protesters picketed his home and pasted
mock wanted posters around Washington: "Jail
proclaimed his innocence, declaring at a news
conference that "self-serving regulators" were
persecuting him because he was the president's
son. But when he appeared before the House Banking
Committee in 1990, he admitted that some of
his deals looked "a little fishy."
Bush paid $50,000 as his part of a federal lawsuit
against Silverado and was reprimanded by the
OTS. Good and Walters ended up declaring bankruptcy,
and JNB, which had never found oil or made money,
Bush maintains that he did nothing wrong.
happened to be one of hundreds of other American
businessmen and women who served as an outside
director on the board of a savings and loan
institution that failed during the 1980s," he
writes in an e-mail. "I regret that the institution's
failure cost taxpayers so much money."
his high-rolling days in Denver, Neil had told
reporters that he was thinking of running for
Congress. At home, he spoke with his brothers
about running for governor.
talk about how GW was going to run for governor
of Texas and Jeb would run for governor of Florida
and Neil would run for governor of Colorado,"
recalls Douglas Wead, a Bush family friend who
served as a special assistant in the first Bush
White House. "The family would have bet on Jeb,
but if you just observed their personalities,
you'd say Neil."
was the most charming of the Bush brothers,
Wead says. "He's relaxed, he's funny, he's a
better speaker than anybody in the family. .
. . He could easily have been a congressman."
Silverado scandal killed Neil's dream of a political
career. But, thanks to his father's friends,
it had little effect on his business career.
"Lud" Ashley, an ex-congressman and bank lobbyist,
"came to the rescue," Barbara Bush wrote in
her memoirs, and raised money to pay Neil's
a family friend," Ashley explains today, "and
he was in real difficulty."
Silverado and JNB both belly up, Bush started
Apex Energy, a methane gas exploration company.
He invested $3,000 of his own money and got
$2.3 million from two companies run by his father's
friend Louis Marx, heir to the Marx toy fortune.
used Marx's money to pay himself a salary of
$160,000, and he sold a Wyoming gas lease that
he owned to Apex for $150,000. The lease proved
worthless -- no methane there. In fact, Apex,
like JNB, never found anything worth pumping.
two years, Apex went broke. Bush had received
more than $300,000 in salary but Marx got zip,
and the Small Business Administration, which
had backed Marx's investments, was left holding
the empty bag.
investigation by the House Small Business Committee
found nothing "illegal or improper" but noted
that a $2 million federally guaranteed investment
to an applicant who risked only $3,000 of his
own money seemed like "a very high leveraging
few months after Apex crashed in 1991, Bush
was rescued by another of his father's rich
friends. Bill Daniels, a multimillionaire cable
TV baron who raised $330,000 in 1987 for George
H.W. Bush's presidential campaign, hired Neil
to a $60,000 job at TransMedia Communications.
who hires Neil Bush is going to get some heat,"
Daniels said at the time, "but somebody had
to do it."
was headquartered in Texas, so Bush sold his
$500,000 house in Denver and moved Sharon and
their three kids -- Lauren, Pierce and Ashley
-- to Houston.
Wehner of Colorado Business magazine called
TransMedia to find out exactly what Bush would
be doing for the company.
trying to find a title for him, if you want
to know the truth," said Dick Barron, TransMedia's
president. "He'll be learning the business,
April 1993, shortly after leaving the White
House, George H.W. Bush flew to Kuwait, accompanied
by his wife, his sons Marvin and Neil, and his
former secretary of state, James Baker.
ex-president received a hero's welcome, a medal
from the emir and an honorary degree from the
university. After he left, Baker and Neil Bush
went to work, attempting to win contracts from
the Kuwaiti government. Ultimately, Bush's efforts
failed to bear fruit. But over the next decade,
he frequently traveled to the Middle East, Europe
and Asia to negotiate deals and raise capital
for various businesses. In 2000 he made $1.3
million, according to his deposition testimony
-- $642,500 of it paid as a commission for introducing
an Asian investor to the owners of an American
his travels, he met with several Arab princes
and enjoyed a private dinner with Jiang Zemin,
then China's president, who serenaded Bush with
a military song.
probably have access to people who wouldn't
meet with a development-stage company," Bush
told an Associated Press reporter in 2002, "but
I feel I'm held to a higher standard."
the last several years, Bush's main business
interest has been Ignite!, the educational software
company he co-founded in 1999. To fund Ignite!,
Bush has raised $23 million from U.S. investors
(including his parents), as well as businessmen
from Taiwan, Japan, Kuwait, the British Virgin
Islands and the United Arab Emirates, according
to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange
year, Ignite! also entered into a partnership
with a Mexican company, Grupo Carso Telecom.
The partnership enabled Ignite! to lay off half
of its 70 employees and outsource their jobs
turned out to be great," says Ignite! President
Ignite!, which pays Bush $180,000 a year, is
not his only business interest. Last year, Winston
Wong -- a Taiwanese businessman and an investor
in Ignite! -- signed Bush to that $2 million
consulting deal with Grace Semiconductor, the
company that Wong founded in partnership with
the Chinese government. Bush has not yet received
any compensation because the contract calls
for him to be paid after board meetings and,
he said by e-mail, "I was unable to attend their
one and only board meeting."
spokesman for Grace declined to comment.
Phillips, historian and author of the forthcoming
book "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune
and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush,"
sees Neil Bush as a man who has made a career
of cashing in on his famous name.
incorrigible," Phillips says. "He seems to be
crawling through the underbelly of crony capitalism."
vehemently denies that contention. "I have never
used my family name to 'cash-in,' " Bush wrote
by e-mail. "Unfortunately, such ridiculous charges
come with the territory of coming from a famous
and public family."
create these prisonlike environments," Neil
Bush said, "then we take our hunter-warrior
types and label them attention-deficit disordered
and put them on drugs."
was the spring of 2002 and Bush was speaking
about education at Whitney High School in Cerritos,
Calif., considered one of the best public schools
in America. He was touting Ignite!, which was
being tested there. In the audience was writer
Edward Humes, taking notes for his book on Whitney,
"School of Dreams," published last summer.
is designed, Bush said, to make learning fun
for "hunter-warrior" kids who don't like reading.
It's a computer curriculum that uses music,
graphics and animation to teach middle school
program's first course -- eighth-grade American
history -- was tested over the last two years
in schools in a dozen states. Available commercially
for the first time this year, it is being used
by about 40,000 students in 120 school districts,
mostly in Texas, at a cost of about $30 per
school that uses Ignite! is Mendez Middle, a
predominantly poor and Hispanic school in Austin.
After three years of using the program, says
Principal Connie Barr, the number of students
who passed the state's eighth-grade history
test has risen from 50 percent to 87 percent.
"That's incredible," says Barr. "It doesn't
replace the teacher or the textbook. What it
does is give the teacher another way to deliver
Ignite! has been attacked by other educators
for dumbing down history. Among its controversial
aspects is a lesson that depicts the Seminole
Wars in a cartoon football game -- "the Jacksons
vs. the Seminoles" -- the animated Indians smashing
helmets with animated white settlers. The Constitutional
Convention is taught in a rap song:
was 55 delegates from 12 states
one hot Philadelphia summer to create
perfect document for their imperfect times
Madison, Washington -- a lot of the cats
used to be in the Continental Congress way back.
is working well, Bush wrote in an e-mail: "Teachers
and students have given anecdotal feedback that
confirms the powerful impact our program is
having on student achievement, student focus
and attitudes, and teacher success in reaching
all of their students."
at Whitney reviews were less laudatory. "The
kids felt pretty strongly that what this was
about was lowering the bar," says Humes.
wasn't impressed, either. "There was a lot of
rhyming and games," he says. "It reminded me
of what my son uses -- but he's in kindergarten."
Bush spoke at Whitney, several students began
arguing with him.
was very surprised," Humes recalls. "You had
to see the look on his face when one young woman
got up and said she liked calculus. He said
it was useless. This is the branch of mathematics
that makes space travel possible, and he said
it was useless."
before the voodoo story and the paternity rumor
and the defamation suit about the paternity
rumor, Neil Bush's divorce was a candidate for
the Nasty Breakup Hall of Fame.
all began in 2002, when Bush informed his wife
-- via e-mail -- that he no longer loved her
and wanted a divorce.
least that's the way Sharon Bush told the story
back when she was still talking to reporters.
Neil has never discussed the divorce in public,
except in that now-famous deposition, in which
he described his marriage as "loveless" with
"no affection" and "very little sexual activity
over the past 10 or 12 years."
51, claimed she was shocked to learn that her
husband of 22 years had taken up with Maria
Andrews, 40, a volunteer helping Neil's mother,
former first lady Barbara Bush, with her correspondence.
Andrews is the ex-wife of a Houston oil executive
and the mother of three children.
is "very pretty -- petite is the best word for
her," says John Spalding, a Houston lawyer and
a friend of Neil Bush's. "She's just great,
and she and Neil are great together."
Bush did not want a divorce, particularly on
her husband's terms, which she considered insufficiently
generous. She launched a counterattack by hiring
New York PR whiz Lou Colasuonno, a man who knows
tabloids, having served as the editor of both
the New York Post and the New York Daily News.
opening gambit was a sure-fire attention-getter:
In April 2003, he announced that Sharon was
seeking a publisher for a tell-all book about
the Bush family.
is a woman who has had some wonderful times
with the Bushes," Colasuonno told the New York
Observer. "But she has seen the dark side, too.
And she intends to provide a view of the family
that everyone will want to read."
Colasuonno arranged -- and publicized -- a lunch
date between Sharon and Kitty Kelley, the celebrity
biographer from Hell, who is working on a book
on the Bush dynasty.
learned a great deal about the Bush family from
Sharon," Kelley told The Washington Post after
the lunch. "She told me he's only offering $1,000
a month in support -- take it or leave it. .
. . She said that when she told Neil she needs
more to live on, Neil Bush said, 'Just get remarried.'
Sharon was sobbing as she told me, 'Kitty, I
just won't sell my body!' "
After that, Colasuonno says, Neil increased
his offer considerably, and the final settlement
gave Sharon about $30,000 a year in alimony,
plus $750 a month for her two minor children,
Pierce, 17, and Ashley, 14. (The couple's oldest
child, Lauren -- a Princeton student and a fashion
model -- is 19.)
on the day the divorce was to be finalized --
April 28 -- Sharon told the judge that she wasn't
sure she wanted to go through with it. "I believe
in working through a marriage," she testified,
"and I don't believe in divorce with three children."
under oath, Sharon asked the judge to order
"a DNA sampling of Maria Andrews's youngest
child," a 2-year-old boy, because she "had cause
for believing that it could possibly be his
judge denied the request. The divorce became
final that day, but the battle raged on.
July, Sharon appeared on Houston's KHOU-TV News,
telling her tale of woe. Somehow the station
obtained a videotape of Neil Bush's deposition
and aired juicy bits from his account of his
Asian hotel exploits.
upped the ante in the publicity war. Soon, Neil's
friend Spalding was calling reporters with a
choice morsel of his own: Sharon had yanked
hair out of Neil's head, Spalding said, so she
could make a voodoo doll and put a curse on
was bizarre," Spalding says. "She literally
pulled his hair and yanked it out of his head.
He told me about it."
admitted doing that and also said she collected
some from his hairstylist's floor. But it was
not for voodoo, she told the Houston Chronicle.
Neil was acting so erratically, she said, that
she wanted to test the hair for signs of drug
use. The tests were inconclusive, she said.
responded by authorizing his lawyer to say he
didn't use drugs.
that point, it looked like the Bush divorce
couldn't get much cheesier. But in September,
Robert Andrews, ex-husband of Maria Andrews,
sued Sharon Bush for defamation over her claims
that Neil is the father of the 2-year-old. She
spread the rumor, his lawsuit alleged, to news
outlets, friends and "fast food restaurant employees."
He demanded $850,000 in damages.
Sharon responded by asking the court to order
Neil as well as Robert Andrews to provide DNA
Andrews's attorney, Dale Jefferson, suggested
a novel Texas-style "put-up-or-shut-up" solution:
"We'll put up $850,000 and Sharon Bush can put
up $850,000," Jefferson said. "And if she's
right and Neil Bush is the father of that child,
she gets Mr. Andrews's $850,000, and if we're
right, we get her $850,000."
. . . no, that's enough of this folly. It's
time to stop wallowing in the gutter. It's time
to take the high road, to raise the sensitive
questions worthy of high-minded people.
How is Neil Bush holding up under the relentless
onslaught of embarrassing publicity? How is
the son of one president and the brother of
another doing these days?
fine, thank you, his friends say.
very optimistic and he's got very thick skin,"
says Spalding. "He's a very happy guy and he's
in a great relationship, and he says, 'This
will all blow over.' "
has real pluck about him," says Lud Ashley.
"He keeps his chin up."
days Bush divides his time between Texas --
home of his children and Ignite! -- and Paris,
where Maria Andrews is living so her children
can learn French.
is very much in love," says Rex John, a Houston
PR man who is the godfather of Bush's daughter
Lauren. "As his friend, I just really enjoy
seeing him so happy because for so many years
he was not happy."
and Maria are incredibly affectionate with each
other and with friends," says Spalding's wife,
Laura, who is Maria Andrews's attorney. "It's
fun to watch them together because they're so
even after all his travails, it's still nice
to be Neil Bush.
2003 The Washington Post Company
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