Perfect Crime Claim Alleged, Disputed by Prosecution
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ The leader of the Billionaire Boys Club, a group of rich young men determined to make it big, bragged that he committed the perfect crime by killing a con man, but the victim had the last laugh, a prosecutor told jurors Monday.
Deputy District Attorney Fred Wapner said he would prove that Joe Hunt, 27, in a compulsive quest for money and revenge, murdered Ron Levin, a sometime journalist and self-described con man.
A defense attorney for Hunt said he would show that Levin’s disappearance in 1984 was “the ultimate con - the con of his death” and that Levin is still alive.
Attorney Arthur Barens argued that Levin planned his disappearance to escape creditors and accusers who would have sent him to jail for fraud. Barens also promised to produce two witnesses who say they have seen Levin alive recently.
Wapner said Levin, 42, whose body has never been found, helped solve his own murder by the complicated con operation in which he trapped Hunt and other members of the social and investment club.
″The last laugh was Levin’s,″ said Wapner, who detailed how Hunt demanded that Levin sign over $1.5 million from his Swiss bank account before he was killed.
″He (Levin) was the kind of person who liked to talk about having a Swiss bank account. But there was $40 in that account. The check could never be cashed,″ Wapner said.
Wapner said Hunt left at the alleged murder scene a handwritten blueprint for murder, a seven-page list entitled ″To Do At Levin’s″ that said ″close blinds ... tape mouth, handcuff ... kill dog.″
Wapner outlined a complex series of financial manipulations and a multimillion-dollar scam conducted by Levin which he said drove Hunt to murder.
Hunt, who claimed he had an unbeatable commodity trading system, was told by Levin in September 1983 that he had placed $6 million in an account at a Beverly Hills commodity exchange for Hunt to trade.
Hunt thought he had parlayed the money into $15 million, and his share of the money would help the club’s ailing accounts. But Levin, pressed for the money, finally told Hunt it was all a joke: The account was a phony, and no money had been made or traded.
Wapner said at least 10 of the young club members were told of the June 6, 1984, murder in a bizarre meeting June 24 at Hunt’s condominium, and those who ″realized they were in over their heads″ eventually talked to police.
He said Hunt told his closest friend, Dean Karny, that Hunt and another club member, James Pittman, committed the killing after forcing Levin to sign the $1.5 million check. Karny, who has described himself as second-in-command of the club, is a protected witness against Hunt.
Within days, Wapner said, Pittman tried to use Levin’s credit cards to pay his bill at New York’s Plaza Hotel and establish that Levin was actually in New York the day after he disappeared from his Beverly Hills home.
Again, Wapner said, Levin had the last laugh. The cards were overdrawn and were not honored and that led to Pittman’s arrest.
Hunt bailed out Pittman, but four months later both were arrested after other BBC members told their stories to police.
The club was formed by Hunt with young men from rich Los Angeles and Beverly Hills families he had met while a student at a Southern California prep school. It was from their families that money was tapped for the club’s failed investment schemes, which included an attempt to market an ore crusher.
Jury selection took more than two months. On Friday, Superior Court Judge Laurence Rittenband dismissed a final defense motion for dismissal, clearing the way for opening statements.
Hunt, who is free on bail, also faces murder charges in San Mateo County, along with fellow investors Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, in the death of Eslaminia’s Iranian father, Hedayat Esmalinia.
It was that case that led investigators last month to search the Bel-Air home of music and film producer Bobby Roberts, where Hunt is staying.
Pittman faces a separate trial after his first trial ended in a hung jury.