PERSONAL FINANCE: Billionaire Bankrupts

Billionaire Bankrupts

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The brothers who filed for personal bankruptcy protection in Dallas last week were no down-and-outers. The long list of possessions mentioned in the filing included Hawaiian real estate, half interest in a Vail, Colo., ski lodge, two Cadillacs, a Mercedes-Benz and a 13,649-piece Byzantine coin collection. But the petitioners, oil heirs Nelson Bunker and Herbert Hunt, realized that their fabled wealth -- still about $1 billion even after many years of financial setbacks -- was in danger of being wiped out by their burgeoning legal problems.

Last month a federal jury found that Bunker and Herbert, along with their brother Lamar, had conspired to corner the silver market in 1980. The court ordered them to pay a judgment of more than $130 million to a Peruvian mineral-marketing company that lost money in the debacle. The verdict could hurt the Hunts' chances in two class actions filed by 17,000 other silver investors. While appealing the judgment, the Hunts are required to post a $225 million bond, which might force them to hold a garage sale of some of their most prized belongings. The brothers hope to get out of posting the bond through their bankruptcy filing. The maneuver could buy them time, but if they continue to lose court decisions, they could someday be truly down-and-out.