Billionaire Boys Club founder Joe Hunt was convicted today of murdering a Beverly Hills con man who tricked him in a phony commodities deal but whose body never was found.
The 11-woman, one-man Superior Court jury in Santa Monica announced its verdict in the third day of deliberations.
Hunt, 27, was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery with allegations of special circumstances, making him eligible for the death penalty.
Court spectators gasped as the court clerk read the verdicts. Hunt wiped his face with his hand, and looked at the jurors and also his girlfriend, Brooke Roberts, who was crying in the first row.
Hunt, leader of an affluent club of prep school buddies, was charged with killing Ronald Levin, a self-described con man who vanished from his Beverly Hills home June 6, 1984.
The jury began deliberations Monday and met for just an hour today before reaching the verdict, which was announced before Superior Court Judge Laurence Rittenband.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Wapner contended Hunt murdered Levin in retaliation for being tricked in a multimillion-dollar commodities hoax.
The prosecutor told jurors Hunt disfigured his victim by firing shotgun blasts at his face, then disposed of the body somewhere in Soledad Canyon.
But Hunt’s girlfriend testified she was with Hunt elsewhere at the time the killing was alleged to have occurred. And defense attorney Arthur Barens claimed Levin is alive and pulling off the ultimate con.
The prosecution contended Hunt, who was expelled from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for misconduct at age 24, bilked investors who were dazzled by his apparent brilliance.
Hunt, who is also charged with a related murder in Northern California, founded the Billionaire Boys Club as a way of amassing fast fortunes for himself and former classmates at the Harvard School, an exclusive prep school.
Members included the sons of some prominent Los Angeles families, including witnesses Tom and Dave May, whose father headed the May Co. department store chain, and Dean Karny, whose real estate developer father helped in the founding of Israel. It was Karny, testifying under a grant of immunity, who provided details of the alleged murder.
Levin mixed with club members until, as a practical joke, he led Hunt to believe he had turned a $5-million commodity investment for Hunt into a $13-million profit, prosecutors say.
The night of the supposed murder, the prosecution argued, Hunt and an accomplice forced Levin to write a check for $1.5 million in compensation before killing Levin. Levin’s check later bounced.
Wapner said Hunt was running a classic Ponzi scheme and needed the cash from Levin to shore up the club’s failing reserves.
The prosecutor said a sloppy error brought down the usually cool and unflappable Hunt. He allegedly left at Levin’s home a “to do” list that Wapner called a “recipe for murder.” It included instructions to “kill dog,” “close blinds” and “tape mouth.”
In closing arguments, Barens picked apart the list, saying 36 of the 40 instructions never occurred.