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Minkow Driven by Greed, Not by Fear, Prosecutor Tells Jury

Times Staff Writer

Fallen carpet-cleaning mogul Barry Minkow was portrayed on Tuesday as a consummate swindler driven by insatiable greed and a limitless ego and not--as Minkow has insisted--a vulnerable young man intimidated by mobsters into a life of crime.

The 22-year-old Minkow, Assistant U.S. Atty. Gordon A. Greenberg told a Los Angeles federal court jury, “is a natural predator. . . . (Minkow) knows how to manipulate people and he does it well. . . .

“He stole more than a thousand gang members could with his own little briefcase.”

The statements came during closing arguments in a trial that has lasted more than three months.

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Once referred to as a millionaire whiz kid, Minkow was charged earlier this year in a 57-count racketeering and fraud indictment with staging an elaborate hoax to prop up his Reseda-based carpet-cleaning firm, the ZZZZ Best Co. He is accused of securities, bank and mail fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.

Nine other individuals named in the indictment, and another accused in a separate criminal complaint, have pleaded guilty to various charges.

Accused of Taking Bribe

Another defendant, accountant Norman Rothberg of Marina del Rey, is standing trial with Minkow. Rothberg is accused of taking a bribe from Minkow and his associates to recant information he gave to ZZZZ Best’s outside accountants of possible fraud inside the company.

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Seated beside his attorney, David Kenner, Minkow displayed little emotion during Greenberg’s daylong, scathing attack on the young man’s character.

At one point in Greenberg’s presentation, Minkow’s mother, Carole, seated in the front row and facing the jury, repeatedly shook her head and apparently was cautioned by a court marshal to remain still. Sitting with her were Minkow’s father, sister and girlfriend.

U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian told Greenberg, his associate, Assistant U.S. Atty. James R. Asperger, Kenner and Rothberg’s lawyer, Richard D. Burda, that in the interest of fairness he wanted both the prosecution and defense to complete arguments on Tuesday.

But it soon became apparent that the complex case’s summation could not be compacted into one day and Tevrizian decided that Kenner’s defense arguments would be saved for today.

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Minkow’s defense turns on “duress"--that Minkow was coerced into commiting criminal acts by mobsters who were the real brains behind the fraud and who were the ones who actually profited from the ZZZZ Best hoax. Prosecutors have estimated that many of the activities from which ZZZZ Best claimed most of its revenue and which made it a highly touted stock--insurance projects restoring buildings damaged by flood or fire--were bogus.

Both Kenner, and Minkow on the witness stand, have told of reputed mobsters moving in on an intimidated teen-ager--Minkow--threatening violence and occasionally beating him to the extent that he vomited blood.

In his testimony, Minkow has said that former stockbroker Maurice Rind, 49, of Tarzana, convicted of stock fraud, and convicted extortionist Richard Schulman, 54, of Encino, were the real architects of the plan to take cash out of ZZZZ Best while manipulating the price of its stock.

Rind, Schulman and others are under investigation by federal and local authorities in connection with the ZZZZ Best case. They have not been charged with any wrongdoing.

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‘Pathological Liar’

Greenberg told the jury on Tuesday not to believe Minkow because he is “a pathological liar.”

Minkow’s claim that mobsters left him impoverished was not supported by the facts, which showed Minkow spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a home in Woodland Hills, a condominium, a sports car and expensive amenities for his girlfriend, Greenberg said.

Among other lies, the prosecutor alleged, were claims that mobsters threatened to throw Minkow off a yacht, which FBI witnesses testified never existed; that he was constantly being intimidated in Schulman’s condominium when, Greenberg said, Minkow actually enjoyed sitting around smoking cigars with Schulman, and that he was roughed up, even though Minkow’s doctor testified that he never saw signs of beatings.

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Minkow, Greenberg argued, was instead motivated by “greed and ego. . . .

Most Important Things

“Power, prestige and money . . . (were) the three things most important to Barry Minkow,” he added.

Moreover, Greenberg asked the jury, if Minkow was under so much pressure from mobsters, why didn’t he ever seek protection from law enforcement? Minkow repeatedly had “a golden opportunity” to go to police while he was on vacation or traveling about the country selling investors on his firm, the prosecutor said.

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