Texas financier and media magnate Joe Allbritton, who lost the scandal-racked Riggs bank to a hostile takeover after it was fined for helping Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet launder money, has died at the age of 87.
The son of a Houston sandwich shop owner, Allbritton built a fortune in real estate, banking and the funeral business in Texas before becoming a Washington powerbroker following his purchase of the Washington Star newspaper in 1974.
While he had to sell the newspaper four years later, he maintained control of a number of television stations and the company now run by his son helped reshape political coverage in the United States with the launch of Politico in 2007.
Allbritton purchased a controlling interest in Washington’s historic Riggs National Bank — which had served 21 presidents and financed the Mexican-American war — in 1982.
“His strategy for the next two decades relied on the bank’s air of exclusivity to woo wealthy clients, particularly foreign governments and their diplomats in Washington,” the Washington Post wrote in a lengthy obituary.
The bank came under scrutiny amid a crackdown on shady financial transactions in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It pleaded guilty in 2005 to failing to report suspicious transfers by Pinochet and the government of Equatorial Guinea and paid a $16 million criminal fine in addition to a record $25 million regulatory fine.
Riggs was acquired by PNC later that year.
Allbritton died in Houston on Wednesday after several months of ill health, his family told Politico.