Barry Minkow: A Portrait of a Fraudster
ZZZZ Best's Minkow at it Again
I first posted this blog on March 18, but circumstances warrant that I update it to reflect recent events. Barry Minkow, who billed himself as a reformed con man, pleaded guilty on March 30 to a federal charge of conspiring to manipulate the stock of homebuilder Lennar Corp. He entered his plea in a Miami federal court to one count that carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. Minkow also agreed to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation into a dispute between Lennar and a San Diego real-estate developer referred to in court filings as Conspirator A. Minkow, 45, who served seven years in federal prison for defrauding investors in the ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning fraud he engineered as a San Fernando Valley teenager, had supposedly cleaned up his act by becoming an FBI tipster and minister. After serving his sentence, Minkow founded the Fraud Discovery Institute and became a pastor at Community Bible Church in San Diego. Old habits die hard, I guess.
Minkow was hailed as a born-again repentant who was doing good things after paying for his crimes. Even 60 Minutes did a flattering profile on him in 2005. In it, Minkow detailed how he manipulated the media and even duped Oprah Winfrey. "Nobody knew I was a liar and a thief, but I knew," Minkow confessed to correspondent Steve Kroft.
This isn’t the first time since his release from prison that Minkow has been suspected of reverting to his old ways. A burglary occurred on the intervening night of January 30-31, 2011, at the Community Bible Church in San Diego. According to 10News in San Diego, the thieves took church offerings worth more than $50,000 in cash and checks. While Minkow wasn’t an official suspect, some church members were suspicious of his involvement because he had access to the funds. Shortly after the burglary was reported, the church sent an email message to its parishioners saying that Mr. Minkow had resigned because "he is no longer qualified to be a Pastor." Duh, why would the church have thought a lifelong criminal had been reformed simply because he said so?
Like so many who violate societal norms and cash in big time after their offense or others who trade on the name of infamous people to strike it rich, L.A.-based production house, Insomnia Media Group (now there’s an appropriate name), has been filming a movie called “Minkow,” which details its title character’s rise, fall, jailhouse conversion and ultimate redemption. It was supposed to be released this spring but the project has not yet secured a distribution deal. According to a synopsis of the film reported by the Movie Insider (http://www.movieinsider.com/m6391/barry-minkow/), it is “The bizarre story of a teenage entrepreneur running a successful carpet company, ZZZZ Best, who gets busted for running a Ponzi scheme. After experiencing a religious conversion in prison, Minkow becomes a pastor doing anti-fraud work with the FBI.” According to the director Bruce Caulk, the ending will be redone to update the story. “I’ve got a hunch that we’re going to be able to put together a revised cut, and it may not make the perfect redemption story, but it’ll be an interesting story. Barry’s done some good things, and he’s done some bad things. Maybe the audience needs to decide.”
So, what is the lesson to be learned? Can a person change his or her character as a result of one's journey through life? The ancient Greeks believed that character traits are dispositions or habit-like tendencies that become virtues (or vices) with practice. We are not born honest or liars, but we become so by repeatedly telling the truth or by repeatedly lying. If this is correct, then how can we expect a serial liar like Minkow to truly be reformed? Minkow's story reminds me of the Idiom: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Blog by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, April 17, 2011