Louis E. Wolfson, a self-made industrialist and financier whose legal troubles were central to the resignation of a Supreme Court justice and who later achieved a cliffhanging sweep of the 1978 Triple Crown as a thoroughbred owner, died Sunday at his home in Bal Harbour, Fla. He was 95.
On both counts, Mr. Wolfson’s mark has proved lasting. The Triple Crown victory of his colt, Affirmed, has not been matched in the three decades since, and Justice Abe Fortas, who stepped down in 1969, remains the only member of the Supreme Court in modern times to have been forced from the bench amid a public outcry.
Louis Elwood Wolfson was born in St. Louis on Jan. 28, 1912, and attended the University of Georgia. Rising from his immigrant father’s scrap-metal lot in Florida, he started with $10,000 in borrowed capital, traded big and bigger in war surplus materials, and put together a diverse group of industrial and commercial holdings.
Total assets under his control once came to an estimated quarter of a billion dollars, and he drew national attention in 1955 with an unsuccessful effort at a hostile takeover of Montgomery Ward, then the country’s second-largest mail-order house.
But his career in high finance effectively ended with a tortuous legal case in the mid-1960s involving his sale of unregistered stock in a company he controlled. Wending its way to the Supreme Court, the case made him a pivotal figure in the downfall of Justice Fortas.
A report in Life magazine disclosed that in 1966, the year after Justice Fortas had been appointed to the court by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mr. Wolfson’s foundation had started paying him what was to be a $20,000 annual retainer for life, in return for unspecified consultation.
Mr. Wolfson was then already under investigation on suspicion of securities violations, and in September 1967 he and an associate were convicted of 19 counts of conspiracy and illegal stock sales. He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment and a $100,000 fine, but battled his conviction to the Supreme Court, which did not hear the appeal. Justice Fortas, who had recused himself from the case and returned the retainer, nonetheless resigned from the court in May 1969.
Mr. Wolfson spent nine months at a federal minimum-security prison in Florida. After his release, he took up the cause of prison reform.
In racing, meanwhile, Mr. Wolfson in the 1960s had established Harbor View Farm, near Ocala, Fla., which he operated for years as a wellspring of winning thoroughbreds.
Together with his second wife, the former Patrice Jacobs, he bred, raised and ran Affirmed, who captured the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes by a cumulative total of just two lengths over the equally gifted Alydar.
Affirmed was only the 11th horse since 1919 to win the Triple Crown, an honor the Wolfsons shared with two other stars of racing: Laz Barrera, Affirmed’s trainer, and Steve Cauthen, the colt’s jockey.
Mr. Wolfson’s first wife, Florence Monsky Wolfson, died in 1968. In 1972, he married Ms. Jacobs, whose father, Hirsch Jacobs, was one of racing’s most successful trainers.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Wolfson’s survivors include three sons, Stephen, of Ormond Beach, Fla.; Gary, of Boca Raton, Fla.; and Marty, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; a daughter, Marcia Drake of New York; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
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