The mark of Cain: A tale of two brothers

The Mark of Cain By Murray Waas The story of the Hale brothers

Published November 17, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

YELL COUNTY, Ark. -- It was on an 80-acre vegetable and livestock farm here at the foot of the picturesque Ozark National Forest where David Hale, his older brother Milas, two other brothers and a sister were raised. Like so many families of Yell County, their parents and grandparents were dirt farmers who had migrated to Arkansas seeking a better life for their children.

Their community shared a passionate attachment to the land, which, though harsh and unforgiving, allowed its inhabitants to live, in the words of one historian, amid "fresh air and intense morning sunlight, softened and diffused by the mists and low-hanging clouds."

Although the Hales did not have much in the way of material wealth, they had their way of life and a set of bedrock values. The five Hale children were in attendance every Sunday at the local Baptist church. Their dad constantly told them that education was the only way for them to get ahead. There was no such thing as situational morality. There was only right or wrong.

"We were taught the value of hard work and taking care of your neighbors," Randy Hale, the baby brother of the family, recalled in an interview. "If someone fell ill, you made sure to look after their livestock until they were better. You did chores on their farm until they were able to do for themselves again."

Their father not only ran the family farm but also worked as a foreman for the state highway department. His goal of elevating his family to the middle class proved to be elusive in his own lifetime.

One of Milas Hale's favorite stories about his childhood revolved around the family's hound dogs. The dogs would congregate at the back of the house for spare biscuits that he and his brother, David, would toss to them at the end of the supper meal. The hounds would catch the biscuits in mid-air and swallow them whole.

One day, Milas caught a tiny mouse scurrying across the floor with his feet, scooped it up and tossed it in high into the air. One of the hounds, thinking that the mouse was a biscuit, caught it mid-air and swallowed it whole: "That hound had indigestion for some time," Milas joked.

Their father's hope that education would lead to a better life was realized after both Milas and David graduated from the Belleville high school and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville before going on to law school.

Later, David went to work for his brother's Little Rock law firm. Both appeared at the time to have bright, limitless political futures. David worked briefly as a deputy prosecutor for Arkansas' sixth judicial district. He would also be prominently mentioned at an early age as a candidate for Arkansas secretary of state, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Milas became the judge of the municipal court for the town of Sherwood, just north of the river from Little Rock, in 1971, a position from which he would build his own formidable political base. Any candidate for local political office, from prosecuting attorney to state legislator, knew that he stood a much better chance of being elected if he had the support of Milas Hale.

In contrast to his brother, David had interests beyond politics and the law. In 1974, he became president of the national Jaycees. Then he purchased an insurance company. And in 1978, he obtained a license to run his federally subsidized loan company, Capital Management Services.

David Hale would later exploit all of those entities for dishonest or criminal purposes. As president of the Jaycees, he embezzled money from the national nonprofit, according to confidential financial records of the organization obtained by Salon. Hale allegedly looted hundreds of thousands of dollars of funds from his insurance company, an offense for which he is scheduled to stand trial on state criminal charges next March. And through Capital Management Services, he stole more than $3.2 million from the Small Business Administration.

In 1979, at the behest of Milas Hale, the Arkansas Legislature passed a bill establishing a new municipal court for Little Rock. Even before the bill's passage, it was well understood that the legislation was proposed with the idea that David Hale would be the person awarded the job, two members of the Legislature recalled in recent interviews.

"Milas was trying to give his brother what he had," recalls a family friend. "He had hoped that by making David a judge that David would all of a sudden turn straight and narrow. But David was no more capable of living that life than Milas could wake up some day and live a criminal existence.

"It was like their respective lives were set at birth. That's the tragedy for Milas and his family."

David Hale's ascendance to the judiciary hardly changed him. In fact, as Salon disclosed earlier this year, Hale used his position as county judge to demand illegal kickbacks from a local bail bonds company operating out of his courthouse.

And David Hale would abruptly resign his judicial seat when he was indicted by a federal grand jury Sept. 23, 1993, on charges that he used his federally subsidized loan company to defraud the Small Business Administration of millions of dollars. It was in an effort to escape those criminal charges that Hale first made his allegations against the president, and also pressed Milas to falsely corroborate those charges.

As a result of David's request that Milas lie on his behalf, the once close brothers all but stopped talking to each other: "It just breaks my heart," says their older sister, Hazel Dennis, 66. "It's been a difficult time for the entire family."

In retribution for Milas refusing to lie for him, David went out of his way to get even during his debriefings with the federal agents. According to a confidential FBI report, David Hale admitted to having received $50,000 from a now-defunct Alabama health-care company in exchange for assisting it in its effort to obtain a $30 million state contract to provide medical services to Arkansas' prisons.

The FBI report asserted that Hale had told the Alabama health-care executives that "he would need [the] $50,000 for political help ... Hale advised that what he meant was that this money would probably have to be used to pay off individuals around the contract process."

Hale told the FBI that he then gave $10,000 to Milas, who he alleged then "probably" passed the money along to two Arkansas state senators who "were involved in the decision-making process on this contract."

Whitewater investigators never even bothered to investigate the allegations, a federal law enforcement source said, concluding the information was too far outside their mandate to investigate the president and other Arkansas political figures. Moreover, two individuals involved in the effort by Hale to obtain the contracts for the Alabama company told Salon that they believed that David Hale never paid any of the money to his brother or other Arkansas political figures. Instead, the best available evidence suggested that David kept the money for himself, scamming the Alabama health-care executives.

Milas Hale declined to comment about the charges his brother made against him. But Arkansas state Sen. Cliff Hoofman, a lifetime friend of both Hale brothers, said he was certain that Milas had done nothing wrong:

"I would bet my life and soul that Milas Hale would never have had anything to do with something like that," Hoofman asserted in an interview. "Milas would know that a payoff for activity that took place during a legislative session would be inappropriate ... If David said he did something like that, I would say that he is lying."

Hoofman also said that the rest of the Hale family should not be judged by David's actions: "The whole family had to have a good Christian foundation for all of them to turn out as good and sharing as they are ... It's tragic that their brother has the mark of Cain on him."

In contrast, a former business partner of David Hale's recently recalled better days for the Hale brothers:

"David once made the comment to me that every important politician and businessman from around here -- either they or their wife or their kid -- was bound to one day get a DWI [driving while intoxicated] or some other serious traffic violation. He said that if it was 'south of the river' they would have to see him. If they were 'north of the river' they would be before Milas in his court. David said that there were gonna be a lot of important folks owing them favors. David saw this as a means to power. He was on the top of the world."

By Murray Waas

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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