Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to turn dazzling potential into disappointment and despair

As Barry Minkow prepared to be sentenced a second time for securities fraud, he appeared in a familiar role: repentant, apologetic, acknowledging deep character flaws and expressing hope he can transform himself for the better yet again.

"The truth about me is I am a 45-year-old loser, and I am so very sorry for what I have done," Minkow wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz of Miami, who was to sentence him early Thursday for conspiring to manipulate the stock of home builder Lennar Corp.

Minkow said he let down the congregation at San Diego's Community Bible Church, where he reinvented himself as head pastor after spending more than seven years in prison for the ZZZZ Best investment scam in the 1980s. Church members he served for 14 years "never saw my criminal activity coming," he said.

The sentencing marks the latest twist in the life of a man who was once hailed as a whiz-kid entrepreneur on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" while a teenager growing up in Reseda. Even after getting out of prison, Minkow parlayed his reputation as a Ponzi schemer to build a new life as a fraud-detection specialist and government informer.

This time around, facing up to five years in prison, Minkow knew he might not be so lucky.

The ex-con who reinvented himself as a pastor and crime fighter was given five years, the maximum sentence on the single count of conspiracy to which he had pleaded guilty. He was also ordered to pay $583 million in restitution to the home builder Lennar Corp. for attacks that battered its stock price.

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