The one-time media mogul who cut a wide swath in Washington and commerce died today in Houston following a long illness according to Politico, which is owned by Allbritton Communications. Born in Mississippi, but raised in Texas, Allbritton initially made a fortune dealing in real estate around Houston as the oil business boomed there following World War II. Allbritton used his earnings to buy an odd assortment of companies including banks, insurance companies, funeral homes, and TV stations including Washington, DC’s ABC-affiliate WJLA. A close friend of the late MPAA chief Jack Valenti, in 1974 Allbritton also bought The Washington Star which he was forced to sell in 1978 when the FCC ruled that he couldn’t own a newspaper and TV station in the same market. In 1982 he paid $70M to control the DC-based Riggs Bank. The bank faltered, though, as it failed to expand into the growing suburbs. A U.S. Senate inquiry disclosed that Riggs courted foreign dictators accused of human rights abuses and laundered money for Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. In 2004 the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency slapped Riggs with a record $25M fine charging that it had not reported suspicious transactions by some of its clients. Albritton’s son, Robert, took control of the family controlled company in 1998. Joe Allbritton spent his later years engaged in philanthropy helping to found what ultimately became the George Mason Law School in Virginia and serving on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. National Association of Broadcasters chief Gordon Smith called Allbritton “a larger than life figure in business, in media and in philanthropy.”
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