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Minkow Trial Witness Won't Testify, Invokes 5th Amendment 92 Times

November 18, 1988|KIM MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

Maurice Rind, the financier identified by Barry Minkow as the secret architect of a massive fraud at Minkow's ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company, invoked his privilege against self-incrimination Thursday and refused to testify at Minkow's federal court trial.

Rind, whom the Minkow defense team alleges made a multimillion-dollar profit on ZZZZ Best stock while bullying Minkow into carrying out the fraud, invoked the Fifth Amendment 92 times during less than two hours of questioning.

"Have you threatened Barry Minkow in connection with coercing him in the commission of these crimes?" defense lawyer David Kenner asked.

"I invoke the Fifth Amendment on the grounds that it might incriminate me," said Rind after consulting with his lawyer at the witness stand.

"Can you tell me whether you sold ZZZZ Best stock and netted $2.8 million from the sale of that stock?" Kenner inquired.

"Fifth Amendment," Rind replied.

"Do you admit or deny, Mr. Rind, that all of this money was provided to you by Barry Minkow through ZZZZ Best as a result of force, threats and intimidation by you, Richard Schulman, Robert Viggiano and others?"

"Fifth Amendment," Rind said.

Schulman and Viggiano, like Rind, are not defendants in the federal securities fraud case, in which 10 ZZZZ Best associates have already pleaded guilty. But the three have been named as prime targets in a Los Angeles police investigation of alleged organized crime involvement in the Reseda-based company, which grew into a hot stock on Wall Street before collapsing last year.

Rind, 50, a Tarzana resident, twice was convicted of stock fraud in the late 1970s and was permanently barred from working as a stock broker. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the ZZZZ Best case, saying he was basically an investor in the firm.

Prosecutors and Rind's attorney both attributed his refusal to testify to the LAPD investigation, as well as investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI. If Rind answered any questions, he would risk waiving his privilege against testifying about the entire ZZZZ Best case, they said.

"Based upon that, I felt very strongly that it was in my client's best interests (for him) to take the Fifth Amendment at this time," Rind's lawyer, James Blatt, told reporters after the hearing. Rind, he added, has been interviewed at length by various federal agents and has provided detailed answers.

"If an individual has spoken more than 20 hours to the FBI and they've had one year to investigate what he's said, I think there's a reasonable inference that can be drawn that what he's said to them has been truthful, and of a non-criminal nature," Blatt said.

Rind did answer questions about his interviews with law enforcement agents, and also revealed that he had received an extortion letter threatening to reveal details about the ZZZZ Best fraud to police unless he dropped off $28,000 at a location in West Los Angeles. Rind said he did not pay the money and gave the note to the FBI.

Rind's testimony was taken outside the presence of the jury, and U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian later ruled that Rind could not testify before the jury because it was clear that he would repeatedly refuse to answer questions. Tevrizian also denied a defense motion to grant Rind limited immunity, permitting him to testify with a guarantee that his statements would not be used against him.

The rulings were among a series this week that left the defense with few additional witnesses to call, prompting a midday recess amid indications that the defense's case soon will conclude in the 3 1/2-month-long trial of Minkow, 22.

Tevrizian earlier in the week prohibited Kenner from calling a series of witnesses who the defense said would testify that they, like Minkow, were threatened and intimidated by Rind and other purported mobsters who infiltrated ZZZZ Best.

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