What Is Going On With Ken Paxton and Nate Paul?

What we know – and don't know – about the strange connection between the embattled Austin real estate magnate and the Texas attorney general


Illustration by Zeke Barbaro / Getty Images

So how much do you know about Nate Paul?

The two of us asked each other this question back in the summer of 2019, when Nate Paul's spots got raided by the FBI. Over the years, we'd both acquired some knowledge about Paul and his World Class property empire that we hadn't seen in other coverage, enough to know that something about the story was really odd – his coming out of nowhere to acquire a set of high-visibility properties all over town, without evident plans to do anything with these assets, and then running into heavy financial weather almost immediately.

Ken Paxton is now nearly a household name across America – the ostensibly Christ-centered heir to the legal activism of his predecessors John Cornyn and Greg Abbott, always at the front lines of culture-war clashes, and in 2020 devoted to raising up Donald Trump and slapping down Texas and especially Austin Democrats in equal measure.

It wasn't enough to tell in the paper, though, and both Nate Paul and the FBI like to keep secrets. With new insights not coming easily, soon it was 2020, and the two of us had much other news to cover, and we were tired. (Plus, Kevin now has a baby boy.) So World Class got pushed to the back burner, with us keeping half an eye on it, until in October it suddenly boiled over and spilled without warning into the much bigger, but also really odd, story of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a frequent character in the News pages of the Chronicle. Not much has been revealed since then that sheds light on the mysterious dealings between Paxton and Paul, but it's a new year with, as of next week, a new Texas Legislature that has the tools and the interests to jump in and investigate.

Paxton is now nearly a household name across America – the ostensibly Christ-centered heir to the legal activism of his predecessors (Sen.) John Cornyn and (Gov.) Greg Abbott, always at the front lines of culture-war clashes, and in 2020 devoted to raising up Donald Trump and slapping down Texas and especially Austin Demo­crats in equal measure. Our fellow Ameri­cans mostly now know that Paxton has spent most of his A.G. tenure under felony indictment, though they're hazy on the details.

Paxton's alleged securities fraud and scamming of, among others, his GOP colleagues in the Legislature, and his heavy labors to beat the resulting rap, did not involve Nate Paul, at least that we knew of. This is a whole different scandal, although, as we wrote back in October, "It makes some sense that ambitious, provocative, ethically questionable, and now embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Pax­ton would vibe well with ambitious, provocative, ethically questionable, and now embattled Austin real estate mogul Nate Paul. Just how well – and at what cost to the people of Texas – is now the subject of many, many questions, after an extraordinary mutiny last week within the A.G.'s Office."

That week, seven of Paxton's top lieutenants ratted him out after he made a string of bizarre, risky, shady power moves to help Paul as World Class unwound in bankruptcy and litigation. They did so using the exact form and language prescribed in the state's Whistleblower Act, which Paxton immediately flouted as he fired, demoted, and defamed aides whom he had hand-picked after ousting his prior executive team in 2017. In Paxton's telling, there was nothing to see here, Nate Paul was just a friend, his aides were the real crooks, and so on, as he busied himself fluffing Trump, suppressing Texas votes, fussing at Austin and Travis County like Henery the Chicken Hawk, and also trying to overturn the 2020 election at the U.S. Supreme Court.

This mess now belonged to the entire Austin and Capitol press corps, which after years of sustained storm damage to the news industry is about the size of a modest recreational softball league. Many players in that league – us, the Statesman (whose Tony Plo­hetski first broke the whistleblowers' mutiny), the Houston Chronicle (whose Jay Root and Taylor Goldenstein broke the Nate Paul angle), The Dallas Morning News, The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press, the Austin Business Journal, and KUT/Texas Standard – have tried to put some mustard on the Paxton/Paul ball over these last months, but again, 2020, tired, a whole lot of news.


Ken Paxton (Photo by John Anderson)

It is a journeyman's beat to just follow and report on the wild things Ken Paxton wants us to pay attention to. He's always able to find time for a Fox News hit when, for example, he sues Austin on New Year's Eve to defend Texans' liberty to infect others with a dread disease. He rarely does normal press with the folks who cover the Capitol to discuss the duties of his office, which he barely performs, especially when compared to his predecessor Abbott, the very model of a modern major red-state attorney general.

He sure doesn't want to talk about Nate Paul, though maybe he should before the Lege comes back to Austin and Trump flees to Florida. The only "interviews" Paxton has given about this turmoil have been with The Southeast Texas Record, one of the network of "local" fake-news outlets exposed as GOP PR fronts in October by The New York Times. Ian Prior, the Republican operative now serving as Paxton's spokesperson, promoted this story to other Texas media in lieu of addressing their questions directly.

The FBI continues to not talk, but did visit the A.G.'s Office in Austin with a subpoena in mid-December, when Paxton was in D.C. filing his Hail Mary lawsuit at SCOTUS to reverse Trump's election defeat. Public details of the Paxton/Paul connection are scant; the most obvious is a single $25,000 donation from Paul to Paxton's 2018 reelect, one of several Paul made to GOP candidates that cycle.

Paul also acknowledged in a deposition in November, in one of the civil cases involving World Class, that he employed a woman who, according to reporting by The DMN and AP, had an affair with Paxton in 2018. Paxton disclosed this affair privately at the time to his staff; Paul said in his deposition that he did not know the details of his employee's private life. Paxton's wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton – elected to represent his old Collin County district in 2018 – has said nothing.

Also now embroiled in the saga is Bryan Hardeman, owner of Austin's Mercedes-Benz dealership and a donor to both Paxtons as well as to Democrats. Ken Paxton in December filed a criminal complaint with Austin police alleging Hardeman threatened his life; Nate Paul had earlier identified Hardeman as the leader of an alleged conspiracy to steal World Class out from under him. Hardeman denies both claims.

A World-Class Decade

For the last decade, you could hardly traverse Downtown Austin without encountering a property owned by Nate Paul.

The buildings held by his self-styled invest­ment/development/management empire are easy to spot. They brandish big black vinyl banners with pithy slogans, often the (trademarked) "Another World Class Project," sometimes just "Another One," "Prime Space Available," or the especially noxious "Moving from California? What took you so long?"

Paul planted his flag on a host of properties whose fate had been the topic of many conversations on the banks of the Austin real estate pond – on Fourth Street between Colorado and Congress, on what had been Lance Armstrong's bar, and the Spaghetti Warehouse, and the menswear shop that in the way back had been the Vulcan Gas Company. Or at what had been the venerable Carmelo's restaurant, or at Cesar Chavez and Red River facing the Convention Center and Rainey Street, or on South Congress where Ego's once was, or facing the Saltillo development on the Eastside, or all the way up on FM 2222, where Paul and World Class took the former 3M Austin campus, a landmark of a prior boomtown era.

"What took so long?" is also what one senior employee at a Paul-owned company thought when the World Class Capital offices, along with Paul's West Lake home, got raided by the FBI and other agencies in August 2019. No arrests were made, but many documents and computer assets were reportedly seized; it's not clear what potential illegality, by Paul or whomever, involving World Class or something else, the FBI has its sights on. Paul has ever since alleged impropriety and criminal behavior against those making the raid – charges that, a year later, Ken Paxton would take it upon himself to investigate, after his executives found them without merit.

"We didn't know how it was going to affect our business, if they were going to arrest him, what the deal was," the employee, who spoke on the condition we not use his name, told the Chronicle. "Later they sent an email that said Nate and Sheena [Paul's sister and World Class' chief operating officer] and everybody is fine and here at the office, and we were going ... 'Well, that sucks.'"

The 33-year-old Paul, who grew up in Victoria, began to assemble his collection of companies and LLCs – eventually including World Class Capital, World Class Devel­op­ment, World Class Investments, World Class Equity, World Class Mortgage, etc. – in 2007, when barely over the edge of adulthood. As with Ken Paxton's other famous friend in the White House, Paul's business was built upon his ownership of lucrative yet unsexy real estate assets elsewhere: a huge cache of self-storage facilities.

These Great Value Storage sites are mostly in Texas but now include 66 properties in 11 states, according to the corporate website. Our source, Paul's senior employee, worked on this side of the business, which he told us made frequent acquisitions for years until the pace of growth slowed sharply in 2015.

Increasingly, he said, it was rumored that Nate Paul leveraged the storage units as a piggy bank for other investments, to the original business' detriment. Great Value Storage managers came to believe that "the self-storage industry was [Paul's] bankroll," our source told us. "He'd skim money off the top of his self-storage holdings, let the facilities run down, and then these profits would be used to buy other pieces of real estate."

Nate and Sheena's father, Love Paul, is a family practice physician, and their mother, Pearl Paul, is a real estate agent. They moved to Austin in time for their son, then known as Natin, to attend St. Michael's Academy. While in high school, he founded several businesses, including 360 Tutoring and New Wave DJs, and received a TCU Texas Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He attended UT-Austin's McCombs School of Business before dropping out to start his real estate career.

Paul's portfolio of businesses, several of which are technically owned by his mother, went on to include Downtown bars Rio Rooftop Pool Lounge & Restaurant and Recess Arcade bar. Rio, a Las Vegas-style pool bar where bikini-clad employees provide high-dollar bottle service, was the subject of a 2014 lawsuit involving eight employees who alleged that Paul and other owners cheated them out of a half-million dollars in tips.


Nate Paul (Image via World Class Properties)

The Collin County Crusader

While Nate Paul was living large at Rio, Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr. was a backbencher in the Texas Legislature quietly preparing his own come-up. A Baylor grad who'd had a modest legal career (a few years at the big firm Strasburger & Price, a few more in-house at J.C. Penney Co.), Paxton was running a wills-and-estates solo practice while Ned Flanders-ing his way into the public eye among the fully devoted followers of Christ in Collin County at Preston­wood Baptist Church, which has 45,000 members – enough potential voters all on its own to help him claim the newly drawn, open House District 70 in 2002.

Paxton was thus on the scene as the Texas GOP assumed control of the entire state government for the first time since Reconstruction, back when "Radical Republican" meant something different; the last GOP governor then, Edmund Davis, locked himself in his office and refused to leave once unseated, an example Paxton may help Trump follow now. A century later, the reign of House Speaker Tom Craddick was action-packed for Texans of all parties, but not so much for Paxton, who passed few bills, never chaired a committee, played no role in the drama that replaced Craddick with Joe Straus in 2009, came up way short in his own campaign to unseat Straus as speaker in 2011 after the tea party blowout, bailed for a single session in the Senate in the seat now held by Mrs. Paxton, and then in 2014 made his way to the front of the Red Parade.

He was not an obvious heir to the office held by Cornyn and then Abbott, both Texas Supreme Court justices before taking the helm of an agency with a big-as-Texas profile in GOP legal circles and also an important day-to-day role as a credible arbiter in a less sharply partisanized state government. When Abbott set his sights on the Governor's Mansion after 12 years as A.G., his more likely successor was state Rep. Dan Branch, a Straus ally who represented Dallas' tony Park Cities, a few miles and a sizable cultural gulf away from Paxton's Collin County Holy Land. But 2014 was a redder-than-red year, with theocrats and tea partyers and their wealthy backers flush with fracking cash and buoyed by their man Ted Cruz's bank-shot upset victory in 2012, pledging their hearts to Paxton alongside fellow crusaders Dan Patrick and Sid Miller atop the GOP ticket.

Even before he won the primary run-off against Branch, The Texas Tribune had broken the story of Paxton's sketchy disclosures of his stock-pumping activities to the State Securities Board, with which he settled an enforcement action. That case would, after months of further revelations, spawn the felony indictments for securities fraud for which Paxton has been outrunning Lady Justice for five years. Rather than reaching a plea deal on what even Democrats agree are not grave offenses – above the threshold you'd like from an attorney general, but not that spicy – Paxton has instead fought like a Trump to keep the case bottled up, raising money for his legal defense, separate from his campaign coffers, to do so.

While still keeping his home in McKinney and his soul at Prestonwood Baptist, Paxton hired a guy named Chip Roy out of Cruz's office to be his first assistant A.G., and Allison Castle from Rick Perry's team to manage the agency message. He kept up Abbott's string of legal challenges to the actions of a Black president, deftly jumping between the cameras of Fox News Nation and the causes that fired up the Tea Party Patriots and Texas Values voters who would soon become MAGAs, such as insisting Texas county clerks didn't have to recognize same-sex marriages just because the Supreme Court said so.

What Paxton did not do was his job, the attention to the state's business that even prior ethically challenged (Democratic) A.G.s like Dan Morales felt was not optional, and that Abbott had pursued with diligence even while trying to burnish his political star. Eventually people wised up and just started directing their questions to Chip Roy. By the time SCOTUS took up Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt – the (successful) challenge to the abortion restrictions Wendy Davis had tried to kill via filibuster in 2011 – Roy was pulling focus in national media that Paxton thought should be his, and soon these folks were no longer friends. (A good chronicle of Paxton's first two years in office is R.G. Ratcliffe's December 2016 Texas Monthly long read.)

Roy and Castle quickly exited the A.G.'s Office, receiving severance payments that ignited their own controversy. Roy in 2018 would be elected to Congress to represent much of Austin; last year, while running for reelection (against Davis), he was the first GOP official to call for Paxton's resignation after the Paul story broke. Abbott, Cornyn, and Patrick simply expressed concerns, returned Paul's contributions to their campaigns, and then had to backtrack a bit as Paxton became the hero of MAGA Nation.

Roy was replaced at the A.G.'s Office by Jeff Mateer, a hard-right Christian lawyer from the controversial First Liberty Insti­tute in Plano, aligned with Prestonwood Bapt­ist (one of whose pastors would replace Castle at the A.G.'s comms shop). Mateer would prove too wing-nutty (particularly on LGBTQIA issues) for Trump to nominate and Mitch McConnell to confirm to the federal bench, but not so wing-nutty as to tolerate Paxton's suspicious favors to Nate Paul. After leading the mutiny and leaking Paul's name to the press, Mateer departed; Paxton and his spokesperson Ian Prior have since alleged without evidence misconduct on his part.

A Chip Off the Trump Block

Paul's growing clout atop the World Class enterprises left many in the industry puzzled. At a time when, as you can see just by looking at the flocks of cranes above Austin, stakes in prime real estate, especially Downtown, were much in demand, World Class neither built nor sold on any of its properties. Speculation grew on local message boards and real-estate social networks about how Paul could sit on assets indefinitely, claim an increasing net worth into the ballpark of billionairehood, and still – legally – deliver returns to investors.

In addition to the Rio lawsuit, Paul faced legal action in 2015 from Austin's Michael Macs, president of the oil company Ranger Exploration, alleging fraud and breach of contract after Macs invested several million dollars with World Class Capital Group and reportedly did not receive promised quarterly returns for two years. The case eventually went to arbitration. Later, in 2019 according to legal filings, Paul was sued by investors Robert and Richard Hooper for failing to recognize or report a $1.5 million equity investment they made on a property where he allegedly misrepresented the financial potential of the deal. That case was later dismissed.

Nate Paul’s growing clout atop the World Class enterprises left many in the industry puzzled. How could he sit on assets indefinitely, claim an increasing net worth into the ballpark of billionairehood, and still – legally – deliver returns to investors?

The senior employee who spoke to the Chronicle described Paul as an unscrupulous businessman who stiffed vendors so frequently it seemed like company policy. "What this boils down to is, he knew he could keep that money in the bank and make interest off it rather than pay the landscapers, the people who repair the buildings, the plumbers, electricians, pest control, and people that we'd buy our locks from," our source explained.

"The managers would get notices from the vendors stating they needed to be paid what they were owed, [but] were forced to keep working them until [Paul's business] was denied service. Then the company would not pay the bill and would make the regional managers find someone else to do the job, [telling them,] 'If you don't find new vendors, you can start looking for another job.'"

The former employee, whose role with the company has been verified by the Chronicle, revealed that one of the companies stiffed by World Class and Great Value Storage worked on a job that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and that at one point multiple vendors working at most of the 66 Great Value facilities were threatening lawsuits. (Also among Paul's creditors was the Chronicle itself, with whom Great Value Storage racked up large delinquent bills for advertising and legal notices.)

At times, the senior employee told us, Paul or executives acting on his behalf would impose policies intended to deceive customers. At one point, the business began charging for insurance on all units; employees were threatened with dismissal if they alerted tenants of these charges. This violated many managers' consciences, our source told us: "We're storage managers, we deal with people in crisis. They've been evicted, they're going through a divorce – there's a lot of heartbreaking situations that we run into and storage is their last option. So when you have people traveling 2,000 miles after you've quoted them an estimate, and then you start adding admin fees, insurance, and future rate increases, the managers felt they were being forced to be deceitful."

He told us, "Because of his actions, it appeared [Nate Paul] did not care about his managers or employees at all. It was his bottom line that was most important to him, and if you did not follow suit with his plan, you would be fired in a heartbeat. He would fire multiple individuals at a time with no notice."

If this sounds rather Trumpian to you, it does to our source, too. "It's the political environment that's allowed Nate Paul to get into the position that he's gotten to. He's moving lockstep with what's happening in the political arena. How did a man like Nate Paul get to where he has in Austin? We allowed him to do it – not me, not you, but the environment created through Trumpism has allowed him."

When Worlds Collide

At some point, Ken Paxton and Nate Paul found each other. Paul's 2018 contribution of $25,000 to Paxton's reelection efforts does not on its own establish a relationship; Paul also donated the federal max of $2,800 to Chip Roy's campaign for Congress, online, and Roy (who joined Abbott, Patrick, and other GOP electeds in returning Paul's money) says he's never met the man. Mateer has since told reporters that this donation made him more suspicious of Paxton's efforts to help Paul; if he or his colleagues know more about the pair's connection, they haven't said so publicly. (This would be an obvious starting point if the Lege holds hearings; the whistleblowers may also be the sources who confirmed Paxton's extramarital affair to the AP and The DMN.)


Paxton with Greg Abbott (center) and Dan Patrick (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Ken and Angela Paxton's campaign disclosures include much larger sums from others; hard-right cash cows like Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks and their like-minded organizations (and other campaigns, like Dan Patrick's) are in for millions. Bryan Hardeman, whom Paul alleges without evidence is the mastermind behind World Class' downfall, donated $10,000 to Ken in 2017 and $5,000 to Angela in 2018 in addition to hosting a 2018 fundraiser on Ken's behalf. The Paxton gift is Paul's largest to any candidate; a $10,000 contribution to Rick Perry in 2010 is his only other recorded political donation in the five-digit range.

Ted Cruz's contest with Beto O'Rourke was the main event of what we now know was the high-water mark (for now) of Texas' rising blue tide, but Paxton's victory over UT law professor Justin Nelson was actually the narrowest GOP scrape of the 2018 cycle. But he still won, and he made no amends to anyone. Angela – a guidance counselor at a Christian high school and Ken's musical warmup act on the trail, singing, "I'm a pistol packin' mama and my husband sues Obama" – walked easily into the Senate over primary contenders with more robust political credentials, and token Democratic opposition in the deep-red district in November.

Nate Paul's life was going less smoothly. The month after the Paxtons won their elections, Paul became embroiled in a legal dispute with one of his limited partners, the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation. World Class agreed to a $10.5 million settlement with Mitte in 2019 but has not paid it, one of several outstanding big-ticket settlements and judgments as well as defaulted loans to various institutions. Paul instead tried to continue the dispute with Mitte and sidetrack the bankruptcy proceedings of the property involved; this would end up earning him and his lawyer Michael Wynne a $232,000 pile of sanctions from District Judge Jan Soifer.

That unhappy outcome came only after Paxton had abruptly and unexpectedly sought to have the state of Texas intervene in the Mitte case, claiming that his duties as A.G. involved regulating Texas charities and thus gave him an interest in the matter. He also wanted to argue that position personally in Soifer's court, rather than deferring to one of the hundreds of assistant A.G.s who do such chores even in Paxton's headline-grabbing cases. Mateer would tell The Dallas Morning News that "in my memory, no attorney general has ever done" anything like this.

Mateer talked Paxton out of this plan in July and, he told The DMN, asked the A.G. to drop any efforts to help Paul. That did not happen; the Mitte matter is one of at least four instances reported so far by the Texas press in which Paxton intervened in unusual, personal ways in otherwise minor matters before his large agency – from open records requests to the permissible dates of foreclosure sales – that just happened to be to Paul's benefit.

In November 2020, Paul Thompson of the Austin Business Journal, who has diligently tried to keep up with the unraveling of World Class, reported that Paul's companies have made 21 separate bankruptcy filings involving properties (all in Austin except for one in Plano) appraised in the neighborhood of $250 million. But these are not all of World Class' holdings, and the debt owed to his largest creditors – about $200 million, the ABJ reported – could theoretically be serviced if Paul were actively managing the portfolio with leases and development deals.

Thompson's reporting has also touched on Paul's track record of stiffed vendors and unpaid bills – including a six-figure debt to American Express, as well as smaller amounts owed to people like John Korioth, owner of the members-only Driftwood Downtown bar, who in 2019 secured a $92,000 judgment against World Class over a lease dispute. It remains unpaid, and the conflict, Korioth told the ABJ, has been "a nightmare of distrust and denial" that's generated more than $200,000 in legal bills for both sides. "It's been the stress of my life since [Paul] obtained the building, and I don't think I'm alone in that situation. ... Just because someone knows how to raise money and buy a building, doesn't mean they know how to operate it."

Paul's track record as a difficult landlord for Downtown bars, clubs, and music venues – in addition to operating Rio and Recess – was fairly long at that point, and was reported on by the Chronicle in August 2018 ("Playback: Eviction Notice," Music), after World Class had acquired the buildings containing two dance clubs, Kingdom and Ethics Music Lounge, and evicted them. That story recapped how La Zona Rosa closed in 2012 after Paul purchased its building, as would happen again when World Class acquired the Red River home of Head­hunt­ers/Metal & Lace, and other venues.

Even earlier, in 2011, World Class purchased the building at West Sixth and Rio Grande that had been home to Momo's and Katz's Deli; while renovating the latter, a construction crew cut a support beam, causing the floor of Momo's to buckle and for that club to vacate, abandoning a lengthy lease. At the time we published, Paul had a deal lined up to buy the home of the Empire Control Room, which fell through after our story and the subsequent outcry.

The World Class CEO seemed to embrace public criticism to some degree. A photo from a 2019 Halloween party, posted to Instagram by his business partner Josh Cisneros, showed Paul in a "fake news" costume of imaginary ABJ and Statesman headlines like "Nate Paul Owns Too Much Property." Yet Paul wasn't laughing after the FBI raid two months earlier, which he alleged involved improper conduct by the feds and other agents involved – tampering with search warrants, seizing inadmissible evidence, violating his rights.

Paul and his pugnacious attorney Wynne would eventually bring these gripes to the A.G.'s Office, who found them without merit, and then to the Travis County district attor­ney, with whom Paul filed a separate criminal complaint alleging a conspiracy led by Hardeman, Paxton's friend and donor with the Mercedes dealership, to illicitly acquire his World Class holdings. Hardeman, along with other real estate and financial players, had expressed interest in acquiring some of World Class' distressed debt, which is common in cases like these. The alleged plot that Paul spun out of this one fact, involving Hardeman, several lenders, and a federal bankruptcy judge, was described as "a stretch" and "ludicrous" by those alleged to be part of it, speaking to The DMN.

Paul's claims were bumped back to the A.G.'s Office by then-D.A. Margaret Moore, with appropriate disgust (expressed in an open letter to Paxton). In response, Paxton signed an agreement, without telling anyone else, with Houston lawyer Brandon Cammack, a young professional acquaintance of Wynne's with no known track record in either financial crimes or ethics probes, as his "special investigator" for $300 an hour. Cammack and Wynne then threw down subpoenas at the offices of various characters in Paul's conspiracy theories, including a lender who'd been approached by Hardeman. This was much too much for Mateer and his colleagues.


Enough said: Graffiti on the outside of the former World Class Properties headquarters (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
“What took so long?” is what one senior employee at a Nate Paul-owned company thought when the World Class Capital offices got raided by the FBI and other agencies in August 2019.

Reputation Management

When the A.G. Seven blew their whistles, Paxton pushed back hard on their allegations but also tried to pronounce the whole matter closed. At that point, Wynne fired back an angry letter, which he shared with the media, putting Paxton on blast: "The contention that the OAG intervention somehow benefited my client is preposterous," he wrote. Whether this represented an actual rupture in the Paxton/Paul bromance or a strategic move to deflect attention is unknown; in any event, the FBI has now widened its probe to include both men.

In December, Paxton made his own criminal complaint to Austin police, which Ian Prior again shopped to local media, alleging that Hardeman threatened his life by texting him a picture of a dead deer with a message to stay away from Nate Paul. Hardeman's version of the story is less sensational – he says Paxton is his friend, with whom he's hunted in the past, and that Paxton should be careful to protect himself from Paul, not that he shouldn't protect Paul from Hardeman.

Perhaps such care is justified. We talked to the plaintiff in a civil court case related to a 2016 assault at Recess, one of the Downtown clubs (along with Rio) that Paul owned and operated. He says the assault stemmed from a prior encounter at Paul's Rio club, in which a DJ showed him videos of an apparent sexual assault by the DJ against an unconscious woman who happened to be our source's friend. He alerted the woman, who went to the police.

He alleges that in retaliation, a bouncer at Recess body-slammed him into a manhole cover on the sidewalk outside the Sixth Street bar. He sustained broken ribs, which punctured his internal organs; the injury has led to three surgeries, severe chronic pain, and necessitated wearing a back brace four years later. His civil case, set for trial this past fall right around the time the Paxton/Paul story broke, was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the plaintiff says, he faced harassment related to the case: first threatening phone calls, then two blacked-out SUVs parked outside his residence, before an attorney for Paul (not Wynne) delivered a letter threatening to sue him if he talked to the press – months before he eventually spoke with us. Finally, last summer, he discovered that someone had registered his name as a dot-com domain. After he filed a grievance with the domain registrar, he received (and has shared with the Chronicle) information indicating the name was registered by the same person who registered NatePaul.com.

That redirects to World-Class.com, the corporate site of the multipronged business enterprise, which doesn't appear to have been freshened up since 2019. However, NatePaul.org takes you to a new site for the Nate Paul Initiative, replete with stock photos and inspirational quotes from Paul about its goals for education, justice and opportunity, entrepreneurship, and community. It'll show up as an ad-tagged result if you Google "Nate Paul," suggesting that he's paying for some reputation management. As the Paxton/Paul saga continues its odd course through 2021 – in court, at the Lege, in the media, and who knows where else – it's sure to be a timely investment.

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