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High-Life 'Club' Leads Rich Boys Down a Dark Path : Leader's Murder Trial Will Reveal Dramatic Tale of Big-Money Deals

November 02, 1986|LOIS TIMNICK | Times Staff Writer

They were hardly errand lists, the yellow legal pad pages that turned up in Ron Levin's Beverly Hills duplex two months after his disappearance.

On the top sheet, below the heading, "At Levin's TO DO," were listed 15 numbered items: "close blinds, scan for tape recorder, tape mouth, handcuff, put gloves on, explain situation, kill dog."

The lists puzzled Levin's stepfather, who found and gave them to Beverly Hills detectives during a search of the apartment, he would later testify.

And they would soon emerge as crucial evidence in a Byzantine murder case involving their author, Joe Hunt, and a Los Angeles investment group and social fraternity known as the "Billionaire Boys Club."

BBC Consolidated was made up mainly of well-educated young men from affluent, well-known Westside families. Its leader was Hunt, a charismatic youth who had prepped with some of the group's members at the prestigious Harvard School in Studio City and gone on to become a trader in the Chicago commodities market--a very successful one, he told them.

But as "the boys" came to accept Hunt's brand of situational ethics and entrusted him with increasing control over their lives and family money, the BBC's activities grew shady and cult-like, court documents show, allegedly culminating in a money-making scheme that involved millions of dollars and two mysterious deaths.

Hunt, now 27, and his bodyguard, Jim Pittman, 33, are charged with robbing and killing Levin in June of 1984--"for financial gain." The two men, along with BBC members Ben Dosti and Reza Eslaminia, are also accused of murdering Reza's father, a wealthy Iranian named Hedayat Eslaminia, shortly afterward in Northern California.

Hunt, who is free on bail after his girlfriend's father put up $2 million in property, is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday in Santa Monica before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. If convicted, he could face the gas chamber.

Pittman (also known as James Graham), whose first trial ended in a hung jury, will be retried. The Eslaminia case is scheduled to go to trial in Redwood City early next year. Several former BBC members are expected to testify that Hunt boasted of having "knocked off" Levin and brandished a check for $1.5 million he said he had forced the victim to sign before his death. The check bounced; some members talked--to each other, to their parents, to some of Los Angeles' top defense attorneys and eventually to the Beverly Hills police. The district attorney and attorney general filed criminal charges.

The defense does not deny that Hunt planned to kill Levin, 42, a well-connected free-lance journalist and admitted con man, or that he had told friends that he had done so. But it will argue that Levin's body has never been found, that he had good reason for disappearing and that Hunt's former colleagues have a motive for testifying against him.

The saga of rich kids, big money and murder--set against a backdrop of "in" spots like the Hard Rock Cafe, a penthouse condo in Westwood, New York's Plaza Hotel, respected Beverly Hills brokerage houses and Swiss banks--that has unfolded so far in preliminary hearings and Pittman's first trial has not escaped the attention of Hollywood and the New York publishing world. There are book, movie and television miniseries deals in the making, defendants and witnesses alike are hustling rights to their life stories, and speculation abounds as to who will play the unflappable, Armani-clad, Jeep-driving lead.

Indeed, Hunt is in residence at the Bel-Air home of film and music producer Bobby Roberts, who bailed him out of jail and hired noted defense attorney Arthur Barens to handle his case. Barens unsuccessfully defended Marvin Pancoast, convicted in 1984 of the murder of Alfred Bloomingdale's mistress, Vicki Morgan.

Hunt will take the stand in his own defense, Barens promises. "He is brilliant, a genius. And he must testify."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Wapner, who is prosecuting both defendants in the Santa Monica trials, agrees up to a point.

"Joe Hunt was a Svengali or Manson-like type of personality," Wapner said in Pittman's trial. "He was very persuasive. He was able to convince people not only to invest money, but he was able to convince people who had invested large sums of money and lost it, to invest more money. And he was very charismatic."

Veracity in Doubt

It appears that Hunt also exaggerated. He botched most of his investments, didn't graduate from college at USC and had been expelled from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

According to Wapner, Hunt murdered Levin for revenge and profit.

By early 1984, the BBC had lost $900,000--much of it in money from its members' parents--and Levin had played an unforgiveable hoax on Hunt:

Levin agreed to put $5 million in a brokerage house account and to let Hunt, a supposed whiz at commodities, trade it. They would split whatever profit Hunt made.

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