Wyly wants to be known for building the arts-and-crafts chain Michael’s and several other companies, which first catapulted him onto Forbes’ list of the richest Americans in 2000, with a net worth of $750 million. He’s better known, however, for being a convicted tax cheat. In 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service targeted him and his now-deceased brother, Charles, in one of the largest tax evasion cases in history, accusing them of utilizing a tangled web of offshore trusts to hide stock sales that generated hundreds of millions in ill-gotten profits. Wyly ultimately was convicted—and socked with a whopping $1.3 billion bill for back taxes, interest and penalties, with $200 million of that owed to the SEC and $1.1 billion to the IRS.
Wyly is now in the clear. He paid the SEC the full $200 million owed, and the IRS agreed in October 2019 to accept $300 million, which means he ultimately got away with paying just $500 million—a $800 million reduction. He paid all of his back taxes, but was unable to pony up the full amount of interest and penalties.
After settling with the IRS, he also got out of bankruptcy in October 2019. Suddenly, he has zero debt and a fresh start—but also significantly reduced means for him and his family..
Sam Wyly was a self-made billionaire of Scottish and Irish descent, who grew up in Louisiana and attended local schools before going to Louisiana Tech University to study journalism and accounting. He won a scholarship to the University of Michigan Business School, where he earned his MBA.
Sam has been a working entrepreneur for nearly half a century. He has founded and/or grown successful companies in online computing, computer software products, oil refining, insurance, steakhouse franchising, arts-and-crafts retailing, hedge fund investing, environmentally friendly electricity and Internet carbon offsets.
Among the companies he created and grew are University Computing, Sterling Software, Sterling Commerce, Earth Resources, Gulf Insurance, Bonanza Steakhouses, Michaels Stores, Maverick Capital and Ranger Capital. An active proponent of clean air through clean energy, he created Green Mountain Energy and Green Bull Fund.
Sam and his wife, Cheryl, are generous contributors to countless philanthropic organizations, including the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Aspen-Pitkin County Animal Shelter. Sam has also endowed alma maters Louisiana Tech and the University of Michigan Business School. Sam and Cheryl are the owners of Explore Booksellers and Escape Restaurant in Aspen, Colorado.
His autobiography, 1,000 Dollars and an Idea: Entrepreneur to Billionaire, is his first book, and he is currently at work with his daughter Christiana on a book about green entrepreneuring.
Sam has six children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He has lived most of his adult life in Dallas, Texas, and also spends time in Aspen and in New York's Greenwich Village.