A convicted felon who refashioned himself as a crusader against corporate fraud and man of God has been found by a Florida judge to have lied, destroyed documentary evidence, and concealed key witnesses in his defense of allegations against Lennar Corp. and certain of its officers that the giant builder had illegally shuffled assets from different land joint ventures.
Barry Minkow, who served seven years in prison and was ordered by the court to pay back $26 million to investors in a carpet-cleaning venture, has since positioned himself as a reformer. Through his San Diego-based Fraud Discovery Institute, Minkow has accused a number of companies of corporate malfeasance and has also gone after elected officials. In January 2009, Lennar sued FDI and Minkow after he went public with his allegations against the builder, causing its stock to fall by nearly 20%.
That suit forced Minkow to prove his allegations, which focused on Lennar moving assets from other JVs into its Landsource venture, which the builder and its CEO Stuart Miller adamantly denied. The company accused Minkow of libel and extortion.
On Dec. 27, Judge Gill Freeman ruled that Minkow had lied to the court, had concealed key witnesses and had either destroyed or discarded evidence detrimental to his defense. Consequently, Minkow forfeited the right to defend himself, and the judge also ruled that Lennar was entitled to sanctions that include attorneys’ fees and other costs that could put Minkow on the hook for millions in penalties.
The Miami-based builder, through a spokesman, told Builder on Friday that it had not issued a statement on the judge’s ruling beyond what its general counsel, Mark Sustana, told L.A. Weekly, which first reported on this ruling. “We hope that the court’s findings with regard to Mr. Minkow’s dishonesty will protect other companies from having to expend substantial time, money, and resources to fight Mr. Minkow’s unfounded allegations,” Sustana is quoted as saying.
Minkow, who is also a pastor, is expected to appeal Judge Freeman’s ruling. On Friday, L.A. Weekly reported that Paul Lopez, FDI's president, used Twitter to apologize to his “friends,” conceding that his company had “fallen away from our mission and our credibility and our sweat equity that we worked so hard to earn.” However, Lennar and other companies have challenged Minkow’s credibility, claiming he and his company benefited financially from their accusations.
A movie about his exploits, modestly titled “Minkow,” has been produced but not yet released. Among the actors appearing in the film are Mark Hamill, James Caan, Ving Rhames, Armand Assante and Talia Shire, according to the Internet Movie Database. The YouTube trailer for the film depicts Minkow as a pawn of organized crime and federal authorities who is ultimately redeemed.
John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.