By Caroline Graham, The Mail on Sunday
Last updated at 09:04 09 July 2006
It is an unlikely setting for an international political scandal. Almost a mile above sea level, surrounded by thousands of acres of bleak, featureless prairie, the sleepy agricultural community of Greeley, Colorado, is normally troubled with little more than water restrictions and farmers’ markets.
See more pictures of the ranch here
But this smalltown backwater is where Philip Anschutz, the billionaire owner of the Millennium Dome, so controversially entertained John Prescott.
For it is here, on a secluded 32,000-acre estate in the Rockies, that ‘the world’s greediest executive’ chose to build his own Xanadu – a lavish £25million estate complete with £3million art collection, golf course and 2,000-bottle wine cellar – which the Deputy Prime Minister visited, so he claimed, to live out his childhood cowboy fantasies.
The Deputy Prime Minister visited Eagles Nest in July last year with two bodyguards, two civil servants and a Press officer.
But locals say the Eagles Nest ranch, which is shrouded in secrecy, is a far cry from the ‘working cattle ranch’ Prescott so desperately wanted to visit.
It is, they say, a ‘rich man’s luxury playground’, where the cattle are there only for show and trees are flown in to make the landscape look attractive – no matter whether they can survive the local conditions.
Bill Jackson, a reporter on the local newspaper in Greeley, visited the ranch three years ago. He said: ‘It is Anschutz’s private fiefdom. He is obsessed by secrecy and no one gets to go to Eagles Nest without a personal invitation.
‘I only got in because I went with someone from the local fish and game authority. Nothing happens in this part of the world without Anschutz’s say-so. But you never see him.
‘He flies into the local airport in his private jet, has a blacked-out limo waiting on the runway and is then driven on to the ranch. It is about as far from a working cattle ranch as you can get. On real cattle ranches, the animals are packed into feedlots in their thousands. Anschutz has a few dozen Herefords looking pretty in the nicely manicured pasture so he and his guests can play at being cowboys. It is a rich man’s vanity project.’
Anschutz, 67, is worth about ýýý4billion, with an empire founded on oil and railways but which now includes a Hollywood film company, a telecommunications giant, several sports teams and the £100million Kodak theatre in LA, home to the Oscars. In a nod to his background, five restored railroad coaches from his Southern Pacific company dot his ranch’s lawns.
The tycoon, who wants to build a super-casino in the Dome, bought the estate 20 years ago for £15million, then built the main house for £7.5million and spent a further £1.8million on landscaping, planting hundreds of trees along the South Platte River which meanders through the property.
But, Jackson said: ‘In typical billionaire fashion he brought in trees which looked nice but which were not indigenous to the area. Half of them died in the first year. Anschutz also spent a fortune diverting the river to make a huge lake which he keeps stocked with bass.
‘He converted a stable block near the main house into guest quarters, but VIPs like John Prescott always stay in the main lodge. It is spectacular inside. Anschutz is one of the foremost collectors of American art in the world and there are priceless works on the walls.’
Anschutz is disliked by locals because of a feud over a pig farm in the mid-Nineties. He tried to buy the 20,000-acre Seventy Ranch, which borders his land, but was outbid by a firm called National Farms.
Company president Bill Haw alleged the billionaire tried to bully and intimidate him. Haw said: ‘His arrogance was breathtaking. He told me, “I wanted that farm and you had better sell to me or I will use all my power and influence to run you out of town”.
‘When I refused to sell, he said my refusal would cost me $15million.’
And he was true to his word. After spending millions building a state-of-the-art pig farm, National Farms became embroiled in litigation with Anschutz.
Haw said: ‘He accused us of dumping waste in the water supply and complained about the smell. He ended up personally financing a new bill which introduced stringent regulations on hog farms in the entire state.
He spent millions in legal fees and in donations to local politicians to buy their favour.’Haw admits he was ‘out-gunned’: ‘We employed 200 people here and had a thriving business but the legal bills and the fighting with Anschutz just became too much. He said he would cost me $15million and he did. I was forced to close up.’
Anschutz is one of the most extraordinarily ruthless people I have ever come across. If he wants a casino in the Dome, he’ll get it.’Back at the ranch, a veil of silence greeted enquiries about Prescott’s visit.
Ranch manager John Finnegan gave a terse ‘no comment’ when asked what Prescott discussed while there, before slamming down the phone. And repeated calls seeking comment from Anschutz’s spokesman went unanswered. Eagles Nest is just part of the tycoon’s property empire.
His main home is in Denver, a 90-minute drive away, and he also owns a 500 square mile ranch in Wyoming, now on the market for £30million.