The Other Koch Brother

In the shadow of his brothers' Tea Party fame, Bill Koch seems almost like a normal billionaire.

"I think he has made a fortune in some of the dirtiest types of energy we use," says Rodgers. "I suppose it galls him that somebody makes money with clean-energy wind turbines that he might even see occasionally from his oceanfront mansion."

In 2001, Bill Koch finally won a victory against his brothers. Koch Industries paid $25 million to the federal government in a settlement deal; in return, the feds dismissed charges that the company stole oil from Native American and federal lands. Bill Koch and his co-plaintiff shared $7.4 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

That year, Bill, David, and Charles also signed an undisclosed settlement that ended the legal battles among them and helped repair their relationship. In 2005, when Bill married his third wife, Bridget Rooney—her grandfather, Art Rooney, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers, and she had had a son with Kevin Costner—David was the best man at the wedding.

PRNewsFoto/Palm Beach High School Foundation, Kim Sargent; © Sargent Photography
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.
Portofsandiego.org
Bill Koch celebrates the America’s Cup victory in San Diego.

Bill Koch continued his legal antics, but they shifted to his hobbies. In 2006, he sued the wine broker who sold him bottles of wine that purportedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson. After hiring his own investigators and speaking to Jefferson's foundation at Monticello, Koch discovered the wine was fake. "I've bought so much art, so many guns, so many other things, that if somebody's out to cheat me, I want the son of a bitch to pay for it," Koch told the New Yorker.

The mystery of the expensive wine's origins sparked a nonfiction book, and Koch and Goldstein saw themselves as crusading heroes in a made-for-Hollywood story. "This is National Treasure," Goldstein told writer Benjamin Wallace, author of The Billionaire's Vinegar.

Koch eventually won a default judgment against the wine broker, although a judge dismissed a separate case against Christie's Auction House. Last year, Koch made headlines again for suing an interior designer who didn't follow his request to decorate his Colorado ranch in appropriate Western style. He and the designer settled their dispute before the case went to trial.

Meanwhile, Koch moved on to his next project: a private high school in West Palm Beach.

It's early June. As the academic chief of the Oxbridge Academy, it's Neen Hunt's job to convince the parents at this open house that a new high school, built on the grounds of a former Jewish Community Center, is worth $15,000 in annual tuition.

Hunt's voice is weathered, and she has the severe, lined faced of a veteran Upper West Side New Yorker. Short, with curly brown hair and a floral print dress, she stands at a podium speaking gravely to the audience of roughly 65 parents and preteens sitting on folding chairs.

"We're looking for deep understanding, not just broad coverage of the issues," she says. "Think deeply. Probe. Don't be afraid to take risks."

Behind Hunt is an elevated stage and an enormous projector screen for PowerPoint presentations. The auditorium at the former JCC in West Palm Beach is carpeted in a sedate blue. Outside this room are empty, echoing hallways and linoleum floors. There's an outdoor pool, six tennis courts, a large indoor basketball court, a dance studio, and spacious playing fields.

According to 2009 tax documents, the Oxbridge Academy Foundation's board is composed entirely of high-ranking employees from Oxbow. Bill Koch is the school's founder and provider of $50 million in start-up funds.

In 2008, Charles Koch gave $1.5 million to the Florida State University economics program—but it came with major strings attached. In exchange for the money, Koch got the power to screen and approve all faculty hired. FSU faced a storm of criticism for accepting that deal.

Goldstein insists things are different at Oxbridge. He says his boss's political allegiances are "hard to pin down"—he has given money to Al Gore, as well as to Democrats in Colorado. And politics, Goldstein says, has nothing to do with Oxbridge. The school has hired accomplished teachers with a variety of political views—including Dennis Yuzenas, a social studies teacher who was punished elsewhere for wearing a pro-Obama T-shirt to school.

"There was no political litmus test given to any of them. We wanted the best," Goldstein says. "We're not out to start a revolution."

lisa.rab@browardpalmbeach.com

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