Who is Joe Shepard?The picture of Shepard that emerges from public records and interviews revealsa shrewd businessman who has aggressively sought public subsidies and mademillions, mainly in rural, low-income housing.In the mid-1980s, he even had a Washington office and traveled there every weekto lobby for the Council for Rural Housing and Development.Shepard, 60, said he has been hooked on business since his first accountingclass. He attended Principia College, a school for Christian Scientists inElsah, Ill., about 35 miles from St. Louis. Graduating in 1968, he was brieflya church practitioner, or lay minister, but found "it wasn't my calling."He soon got his first taste of deal-making. Shepard returned to his hometown ofEast Lansing, Mich., to help salvage his father's Red Wing shoe stores, whichwere threatened by the debts of a sister business.Moving to St. Louis in 1973, he ran financial projections for developers at anarchitectural firm, all the while looking for ways to become his own boss.He compares his entrepreneurial drive to a woman knowing she wants to be amother. "Well, I knew I was going to have my own business," he said. "I do proformas in my head. The more complicated it is, the more I enjoy it."In 1976, he founded Group Three Construction Co., the firm that would form thebackbone of his housing network. But the company got off to a shaky start: Onepartner immediately died in a plane crash.That left Shepard and partner Skip Mange, now a Republican St. Louis Countycouncilman."Neither of us had any money," Shepard quipped.Luckily, the federal Farmers Home Administration provided 1 percent loans.Shepard wooed investors while Mange, a civil engineer, supervised construction.Together, the pair developed more than 60 apartment complexes before Mange leftthe firm. On the mantle in Shepard's office is a photo of the pair at theirfirst groundbreaking -- in impoverished Hayti, Mo.Shepard also served on the board of the Children's Home Society of Missouri,which provides adoption services. He and his first wife, Suzanne Shepard,adopted four children, who now range in age from 24 to 30.How subsidies workShepard's housing empire eventually stretched across the South and Midwest,from Kissimmee, Fla., and Roanoke, Va., to Sylvan Grove, Kan., and Wilber, Neb.It consists of overlapping partnerships, which are virtually indecipherable toa layperson. Housing experts say there are several reasons for the Byzantinebusiness structures.The government requires a separate limited partnership for each project. Also,developers can sell their tax credits -- but only to buyers who own a share ofthe development.Diagrams Shepard provided look like spider webs. Take one example -- a 24-unitcomplex in Howardville, Mo.