Bruce McMahan began the seduction of his daughter one evening in the spring of 1998 by having her look over his business writings in the library of his lavish Pelham, New York, estate.
Linda Schutt described the events of that evening earlier this year in a deposition that was taken in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 6. McMahan declined to comment when New Times reached him on the telephone, and he never testified in any of the litigation. But according to Linda's testimony, that night in 1998, McMahan's fourth wife, Cynthia, was at a spa, and a housekeeper was somewhere on the premises.
"He opened a bottle of wine. He poured me a glass of wine, and we drank together."
While they leafed over his writings, he began to tell her of his sexual relationships with past women. He preferred them slender with wide cheekbones. "He told me he liked to buy furs for women and have sex with women on mink coats."
McMahan, who was then around his 59th birthday, asked his daughter, 29, to move to his bedroom and watch the first 30 minutes of the movie Braveheart. He wanted her to see the love story and clandestine wedding that unfolds in the opening act of Mel Gibson's film because, Linda testified, it reminded him of his relationship with her.
Then McMahan really started to lay it on thick. Linda testified he told her he believed they'd been married in a previous life. Earlier in the evening, she remembered, he had pointed out that her legs were a "very sexy version" of his own.
"He asked me what it would be like to kiss me."
Later that night, he found out.
On his bed, he kissed her and ran his hand over her body, on top of and inside her clothes, she testified. The petting session lasted two hours, she recalled. When Linda said she was tired, McMahan suggested they sleep in separate bedrooms. After Linda returned to California, her father asked if she was OK. She said she felt confused.
Their first episode of actual sexual intercourse wouldn't take place for several months. For that encounter, McMahan arranged a fairly dramatic setting a hotel suite in London after a transatlantic flight.
But then, McMahan had the cash for that kind of extravagance. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, he set about building his own wealth early on. His father ran McMahan's Furniture, a well-known California retail chain, but Bruce's own ideas were less conventional. Six years after graduating from the University of Southern California in 1960, the young magnate set out with some friends to create their own country.
According to newspaper articles published at the time, the plan involved sinking a mothballed World War II ship 220 miles off the California shore, then piling on concrete, clay, and garbage. The resulting island would be in international waters and outside the jurisdiction of American law. McMahan's group planned to corner the market on abalone fishing.
The plan failed, and his business biographies today don't mention it.
McMahan then moved into the financial services market. After his first wife, Jill Harvick, died of cancer, he married Melinda Headley Ewell in 1969 and moved to Spain. After six years abroad, he moved his family to New York and created the Institutional Options Department at PaineWebber Inc. He moved to Bear Stearns & Co. in 1977 and branched out on his own in 1980.
But McMahan has always been quiet about his money. Until their divorce, which ended in 1984 after three years of legal wrangling, Ewell tells New Times, "I didn't realize how much money he had... We were young, raising children. Bruce was building his business."
Today, McMahan has the reins on more money than some heads of state. On Wall Street, he heads McMahan Securities, a convertible securities firm with a trading volume third only to UBS and Thomas Weisel Partners. Through other corporations, he also owns hedge funds that he invites people to invest in. He sits on the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a private nonprofit with 750 members funded by government grants and corporate gifts.
His London-based Argent Financial Group Ltd. controls billions of investment dollars in the Middle East. According to Dr. Omar Bin Sulaiman, director general of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Argent Financial is the first group in the region licensed to manage wealth-building funds, estimated at a whopping $1.9 trillion.