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Leader of Billionaire Boys Club Convicted of Murder

April 23, 1987|LOIS TIMNICK and CAROL McGRAW | Times Staff Writers

Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt was convicted Wednesday of murdering a Beverly Hills entrepreneur and con man--whose body has not been found--to avenge a high-stakes investment hoax and raise funds for his foundering business fraternity.

The boyish Hunt, 27, blanched and appeared dazed as the clerk in Santa Monica Superior Court read the verdict--guilty of first-degree murder and robbery--reached after only two days of deliberations. The jury, which listened for 2 1/2 months to a saga of rich kids, big money and murder, found that Ron Levin was slain in the course of the robbery, a special circumstance that could result in a death sentence.

Penalty arguments are scheduled May 11. After that, Hunt and three young associates face a second murder trial in Northern California.

Moments after the verdict was announced, Hunt hugged his attorney and wiped his eyes. Regaining his composure, he began scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, much as he has done throughout the trial. The prosecution's key evidence against him had been seven pages of similar legal pad notes left behind at the murder scene.

"This is a tragedy because Ron Levin is alive, and I think he'll be found in the next couple of years. . . . At least he did not die by my hands on that particular night," Hunt said, after turning to face a horde of spectators and cameras.

Hunt, who did not testify, called the jury "conscientious" but said their logic does not match his memory. "My only responsibility now is to keep my chin up," he said calmly. "That's what I do best."

Sitting in the front row, Levin's elderly stepfather, Martin Levin, sneered. "Joe Hunt's never at a loss for words. . . . The evidence was overwhelming. He's guilty as hell. Now he gets his just deserts."

The victim's mother, Carol Levin, said she had been praying at her son's memorial plaque at a local synagogue for the guilty verdict. Asked about recent reports that her son might still be alive, she said, "If he were alive anywhere, he would have called me."

Disappeared in 1984

Levin, 42, disappeared June 6, 1984. According to the government's key witness, Hunt boasted that he and his bodyguard handcuffed Levin in the latter's Beverly Hills duplex and put him face down on a bed where the guard then shot him in the back of the head with a silencer-equipped pistol. Levin's body, wrapped in a comforter from his bed, was allegedly dumped in Soledad Canyon in the Angeles National Forest.

Hunt's lead defense attorney, Arthur Barens, told reporters that he was "extremely disappointed" by the verdict and is still weighing what to do next. An appeal is expected.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Fred Wapner, who prosecuted the case, said he was relieved and pleased and called it a "just verdict."

Both sides declined further comment, citing a gag order imposed by Judge Laurence Rittenband. He also ordered jurors not to discuss their decision.

Before being remanded to custody, Hunt hugged his attorneys and patted friends' hands. He pulled a chair close to where his girlfriend, Brooke Roberts, and her mother, Lynne Roberts, were seated, bent over the railing and pulled their hands to his lips. He then stripped off his striped tie, watch and other valuables to give them for safekeeping. After Brooke Roberts bolted from the courthouse, sobbing, "Oh my God, oh my God," Hunt was escorted through a rear door by four bailiffs for transport to Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail, where he will be held without bail.

Arrested 2 Years Ago

Hunt was arrested more than two years ago after other BBC members told police that he had bragged of committing "the perfect crime" in killing Levin. His bodyguard, Jim Pittman, was arrested while trying to impersonate Ron Levin in New York, using bad credit cards.

The charismatic Hunt, often described as a boy genius and Svengali, had linked up with former classmates at the exclusive private Harvard School and other young men from prominent Los Angeles families to form a business and social group called BBC Consolidated of North America.

Dubbed the "Billionaire Boys Club," they drove high-performance cars, wore designer suits and frequented Los Angeles' trendiest night spots--and dreamed of becoming richer and more successful than their parents. But the group's investments failed and its business ventures foundered, culminating in a money-making scheme that involved millions of dollars and two mysterious deaths.

By early 1984, after the BBC, which at times had up to 30 members, had lost nearly $1 million in bad investments and high living, along came Levin, who agreed to place $5 million in a brokerage house account and to let Hunt trade it. They would split the profits 50-50.

Deal a Hoax

It turned out to be a hoax. Levin persuaded the brokerage company that he was doing a television documentary about commodities trading and that none of Hunt's buy or sell orders should be acted upon. Hunt was not to be let in on the secret so that he would make "real" decisions.

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