Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one of five charges against him for his role in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal.
Wyatt was accused of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government to win oil contracts from Iraq. Pending his sentencing on Nov. 27, he remains free on bail, but is not allowed to leave the country. Under the terms of the plea agreement, he could face 18 to 24 months in prison.
"I did not want to waste any more time -- I am 83 years old -- fooling with this operation. The quicker I get it over with the better," Wyatt told reporters.
The self-made tycoon known for his unfettered opinions and flamboyant style also agreed in U.S. District Court to forfeit $11 million.
Wyatt had faced a maximum of 74 years in prison if convicted in Manhattan federal court on all five original charges. The trial was cut short when a special hearing was called to hear the guilty plea.
Among the original charges was engaging in prohibited financial transactions with Iraq, which stemmed from deals alleged to have violated the U.N. oil-for-food program that was designed to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraq while it was under international sanctions.
Wyatt got his start selling oil drill bits out of the trunk of his car, and went on to found the Coastal Corp, which was sold to El Paso Corporation for $17 billion in stock in 2000 and 2001.
Defense lawyer Gerald Shargel had argued the federal case against Wyatt was "entwined" with his opposition to both U.S.-led wars against Iraq.
In one act that created friction with former President George H.W. Bush, Wyatt flew to Iraq with former Texas Gov. John Connally in December 1990 in a bid to free U.S. citizens held in Baghdad. That came just before the U.S. operation to dislodge Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait.
They brought back some two dozen people to Texas.
Shargel had portrayed Wyatt as a patriotic American whose advice was sought by nearly every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton, but not the Bushes: former President
George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.