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Barry Minkow gets 5 years for embezzling from San Diego church

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Barry Minkow, who as a teen built a fortune out of his ZZZZ Best carpet-cleaning business in Reseda before it collapsed as a fraud, was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $3 million from his San Diego church congregation.

It's the third time that Minkow, now 48, has been convicted and sentenced in fraud-related cases.

Besides the ZZZZ Best case, he pleaded guilty to a single fraud count three years ago over his effort to damage home-builder Lennar Corp. He was sentenced then by a federal judge in Florida to five years in prison.

In January, Minkow pleaded guilty to charges of defrauding San Diego Community Bible Church, where he was head pastor. He admitted stealing donations, netting him $1.6 million after he routed some of the money back to church uses. Minkow also saddled the church with millions of dollars in unauthorized loans he took out, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark W. Pletcher.

Calling him a "predator from the pulpit," Pletcher said Minkow admitted to a litany of misdeeds that included stealing $300,000 from a widow raising a granddaughter. He also tricked a widower into donating $75,000 — money Minkow pocketed — for a nonexistent hospital in Sudan to honor the donor's wife, who had died of cancer, Pletcher said.

"It doesn't get much worse than that in the world of nonviolent crime," said U.S. District Judge Michael Anello in handing down the maximum term Monday, plus a $250,000 fine, and ordering Minkow to pay restitution.

In a letter to the judge, Minkow said he regretted his actions.

In court, parishioners said they felt he'd betrayed them.

Minkow stepped into the national spotlight as a teenage business whiz in the 1980s after starting the carpet-cleaning company in his parents' Reseda garage. He was a millionaire by the time he turned 21.

But ZZZZ Best turned out to be a sham built on credit card fraud and largely fabricated work orders, and Minkow spent more than seven years in prison.

After his release in 1995, he expressed remorse and became a pastor at the San Diego church and founder of the Fraud Discovery Institute, a detective shop that set out to expose investment frauds and corporate wrongdoing.

His 2011 plea was to a charge of conspiring to damage Lennar by attacking the Miami home builder as a "financial crime in progress." The reports, which he acknowledged were filled with falsehoods, caused Lennar's market value to plummet more than $500 million.

scott.reckard@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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