Organized crime figures reaped huge profits from Barry Minkow's carpet-cleaning company and are counting on his conviction to take the heat off them, Minkow's attorney told a Los Angeles federal court jury on Wednesday.
"The organized crime people want the sacrificial lamb, Barry Minkow, served up to you so he can be found guilty, so it exonerates them," attorney David Kenner underscored in his closing argument at Minkow's fraud and racketeering trial.
In this framework, Kenner recalled that police investigators last year publicized the reach of organized crime into Minkow's once high-flying Reseda-based ZZZZ Best company. But, the lawyer declared, either the investigation was "a farce and a hoax," or authorities felt information about the probe had to be stifled for fear of hurting the prosecution's case.
"I believe there has been a cover-up," Kenner said.
The alleged organized crime connection to ZZZZ Best is a key to the 22-year-old Minkow's "duress defense"--that he was intimidated and beaten by mobsters, who forced him into a life of crime.
"Duress," declared Kenner, "that's what this trial is all about."
Minkow already has admitted on the witness stand that he manipulated his firm's stock and that most of ZZZZ Best's millions in revenues were built on "lies." With this in mind, Kenner's point has been that prosecuting the mobsters--or putting them on the witness stand--would underscore that his client was their tool.
In a setback for the defense last month, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian ruled that Kenner could not introduce testimony from police that ZZZZ Best was infiltrated by organized crime.
Kenner's argument was forceful and colorful. At one point, the attorney used a hand puppet to make a dramatic point about a reputed mobster, provoking laughter from the jury.
His demonstration came a day after the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. Gordon A. Greenberg, told jurors Minkow was "a natural predator," who precisely planned his crimes.
Banging the lectern, an angry Kenner denounced the government for not producing what he called "the A-List testimony"--from mobsters identified by police 17 months ago as being linked to ZZZZ Best.
Two of the alleged mobsters, Maurice Rind, 49, of Tarzana, and Richard Schulman, 54, of Encino, helped mastermind ZZZZ Best's fortunes, according to Los Angeles police. They are included in a massive report that the LAPD's intelligence division has forwarded to the district attorney. However, neither man has been charged with wrongdoing.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn, who is studying the police report, said no consideration was given on timing any action to help federal prosecutors.
Assistant U.S. Atty. James R. Asperger said Wednesday, "the investigation is continuing" at the federal level into allegations that organized crime played a role in the ZZZZ Best case.
Kenner argued Wednesday that Rind, Schulman and others with reputed mob connections witnessed the coercion of Minkow and that it was the government's responsibility--not the defense's--to put them on the stand.
Taking note that the heavyset Schulman had a reputation as "a cigar-smoking whale," Kenner held up a whale hand puppet with a cigar in its mouth and asked, "what would he have said?"
Kenner was particularly incensed that the prosecution never called Daniel Krowpman, 42, a former ZZZZ Best director, to testify. Krowpman already has pleaded guilty to fraud charges.
Minkow has repeatedly claimed that it was Krowpman who intimidated him into criminal acts and who was a constant witness and participant to years of mob threats and beatings.
Kept Away From Jury
Krowpman, Kenner charged, "is bottled in a plea agreement" and was being kept from the jury by the government.
But Asperger, concluding his closing statement, said "there's not a shred of evidence" that Krowpman touched Minkow.
In summation, Asperger branded Kenner's arguments "a smoke screen. He's playing on the mystique of the mob."
Being tried along with Minkow is accountant Norman Rothberg, 52, of Marina del Rey, who is accused of taking a bribe to help Minkow and his associates keep the ZZZZ Best fraud quiet.
Tevrizian said the jury will be given the case today.