5 Things To Know About Con-Man-Turned-Pastor Barry Minkow

Barry Minkow has been a prisoner, a pastor, and a few things in between.

January 11, 2022
In this July 7, 2002 file photo, Barry Minkow, a convicted con artist and the co-founder of the for-profit Fraud Discovery Institute, wears a prison jumpsuit costume as he delivers a sermon on materialism at the Community Bible Church in San Diego. Minkow, who went from teenage millionaire to convicted con artist to professional fraud fighter and pastor, was convicted Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 of cheating his San Diego church congregation out of some $3 million.

Convicted con artist, Barry Minkow

Photo by: AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File

AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File

“Fraud is the skin of truth stuffed with a lie,” Minkow told the Orange County Register in 2009—that was before his second of three stints in prison. What exactly is the truth about Barry Minkow?

His blue-collar gig launched a white-collar crime

Minkow was a 16-year-old high school student when he started a carpet cleaning business, ZZZZ Best, in the basement of his parents’ California home. The business was allegedly a front for a Ponzi scheme and appeared to be a solvent business due to Minkow’s insurance scams, bad checks, and lies. During the company’s initial public offering in late 1986, it was valued at more than $300 million. Just seven months later, ZZZZ Best was bankrupt. According to Investopedia, its assets were sold at an auction for $64,000.

Minkow took 11 people down with him

After the bankruptcy, Minkow and 11 of his ZZZZ Best business associates were indicted by a federal grand jury. Minkow’s 57 charges included credit card fraud, embezzlement, securities fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, racketeering, and mail fraud. In December of 1988, the 22-year-old was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in jail, and he was ordered to pay $26 million in restitution.

The redeemed fraudster pastored a church and opened a fraud detection company

While in prison, Minkow earned a master’s degree in divinity from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, a conservative Evangelical Christian college founded by Jerry Fallwell. When Minkow was released in 1995, he converted to Christianity and became the pastor of San Diego Community Bible Church. With claims of being a reformed man, Minkow also opened the Fraud Discovery Institute so he could investigate the same types of crime that sent him to prison in the first place. In a 2009 Orange County Register interview, Minkow said he earned money to conduct investigations by shorting stocks he was preparing to announce as fraudulent.

The apparently reformed man became a repeat offender

It wasn’t long before Minkow was up to his old games. In 2011, Minkow pleaded guilty to one count of insider trading related to his activities at the Fraud Discovery Institute. In 2009, Minkow released a report alleging that homebuilder Lennart was participating in its own Ponzi Scheme, which caused their stock to plummet. Minkow was charged with conspiracy to commit securities fraud and ultimately went to prison for five years.

Not even the parishioners at his church were immune to Minkow’s schemes

According to a 2014 FBI press release, Minkow had also swindled members of his congregation for more than $3 million dollars. He convinced a widowed grandmother caring for her grandchild to donate $300,000. In another case, he talked a widower into giving him $75,000 to help fund a hospital in Sudan. The donation was made in honor of the man’s wife, who had recently died of cancer. Minkow, who was in prison for his FDI conspiracy, was sentenced to another five years for embezzlement for his church scheme. He was released from federal prison on June 6, 2019.

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