Advertisement

Billionaire Boys Club Leader’s Oft-Delayed Murder Trial Nears

Share via
Times Staff Writer

More than two years after his arrest, Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt is due to go on trial Monday in Santa Monica in the murder of journalist and admitted con man Ron Levin, whose body has never been found.

“We’ve been shadowboxing now for a long time,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.

He noted that the trial has been repeatedly delayed, most recently by a defense motion to dismiss the case on grounds that, during a search of the Bel-Air home where Hunt has been staying, investigators seized or read defense materials. Hunt, 27, has been participating in preparation of his legal defense and used one room of the house as an office.

Advertisement

Rittenband denied the motion Friday, saying that the search had been conducted appropriately, and ordered the jury to report Monday for opening statements.

The jury of 10 women and two men was picked over a three-month period. Meanwhile, the key prosecution witness was eliminated as a suspect in a third murder.

Hunt’s trial is the second murder case involving five members of BBC Consolidated, a business and social club made up mainly of well-educated young men from affluent Westside families, who espoused life in the fast lane, frequented Los Angeles’s trendiest spots and lost nearly $1 million in commodities trading and other investments.

Hunt and his bodyguard, Jim Pittman, are charged with robbing and killing Levin “for financial gain” in Beverly Hills in June of 1984. (Pittman’s first trial ended in a hung jury and he will be retried separately). The two men, along with BBC members Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, are also accused of murdering Eslaminia’s wealthy Iranian father, Hedayat Eslaminia, near San Francisco a month later.

Defense attorney Arthur Barens had argued that the search of Hunt’s quarters in the home of film and music producer Bobby Roberts last month by investigators in the Northern California case involved confidential materials that reveal defense strategy.

The search team included several local police officers, among them Beverly Hills Police Detective Les Zoeller, who heads the investigation of the case here, and Hollywood homicide detectives investigating another murder linked indirectly to the BBC. Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Wapner, who is prosecuting the Levin slaying case, said he learned of the search only after it was in progress, when Lynne Roberts telephoned the courtroom to speak to Hunt’s attorneys.

Advertisement

Roberts testified last week that while officers were searching her home she overheard a conversation between Zoeller and Oscar Breiling, a special agent in the state attorney general’s office, outside her bedroom door.

“Mr. Zoeller said to Mr. Breiling, ‘Listen I’ve got to get out of here. I just got off the phone with Wapner and he says what we’ve done may be illegal.’ ”

But Rittenband ruled that the search warrant was valid and that the participants had been adequately directed not to discuss anything they saw that might relate to the Levin case.

Taking the stand briefly during a hearing concerning the search, defendant Hunt gave a foretaste of his style as a witness. The lanky, self-confident Hunt contended that his fear of another search has had a “chilling” effect on his ability to work with his lawyer to prepare for trial.

Asked whether his legal research might have suggested his answers, Hunt delivered a rapid-fire discourse on case law, causing the surprised judge to smile.

“You see what I mean about not needing any associate counsel,” Rittenband told Hunt’s attorney. The judge was referring to a battle between himself and the defense over whether a second lawyer, Richard Chier, could participate in the trial.

Advertisement

In a hearing in his chambers on Thursday, Rittenband called Chier “abrasive” and said he will not be permitted to question witnesses because “he would antagonize and alienate the jurors.” Rittenband told Chier that he may only whisper to Barens and argue motions.

Reminding the judge that a defendant is entitled to have two lawyers argue a death penalty case, Wapner said he was “gravely concerned . . . that we could end up doing a four- or five- or six-month trial as a nullity because the appellate court and the Supreme Court will say that he did not get his effective representation of counsel.”

Rittenband snapped: “I will take my chances. . . .”

Chier filed an appeal of Rittenband’s decision Friday.

In another development, Hollywood police confirmed that the prosecution’s star witness in both murder cases, former BBC member Dean Karny, has been eliminated as a suspect in the killing of 21-year-old Richard Mayer, whose body was found Oct. 18 stuffed in a trunk in a Hollywood motel room.

“We do not want to jeopardize any of the other two murder cases” by releasing details, Los Angeles Police Lt. Edward Hocking, commanding officer of Hollywood detectives, said in an interview. “But obviously items found with somebody’s name on them (at the murder scene) certainly are of interest.”

A credit card receipt bearing the name “Karny” was found in the room, and several letters implicating Karny were sent to police and others. Police said they are still investigating how certain items got into the room, and if they were planted, by whom. Anyone with a link to the BBC murder cases is a possible suspect, they said.

But police said that the state attorney general’s office has told them that Karny could not have been anywhere near the murder scene at the time. He has been granted immunity in the Levin and Eslaminia cases in exchange for his testimony and is now in the California witness protection program.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, Eslaminia’s ex-wife, Mina Hakimi, and four children, including Reza Eslaminia, the son accused of his murder, have filed a wrongful death suit seeking unspecified monetary damages. Hunt, Karny, Pittman, Dosti, BBC Consolidated and others are named as defendants in the suit, filed last month in San Mateo County Superior Court, which alleges conspiracy, wrongful death and negligence.

Attorney Robert Cartwright, who represents the family, other than Reza Eslaminia, said the civil lawsuit will not be tried until conclusion of the criminal trial, which is not expected to begin before late summer.

Advertisement