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Billionaire Boys Club's Founder Denied New Trial

April 17, 1998|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The state Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by Joe Hunt, the founder of the Billionaire Boys Club who was convicted in 1987 of murdering a man whose body has never been found.

The court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling that there was insufficient evidence to support Hunt's appeal for a new trial.

Hunt was sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 slaying of Ronald Levin, a con man who had duped him. He had sought a new trial because of reports by five eyewitnesses that Levin is still alive.

Hunt has contended since the original trial that Levin faked his own death to frame Hunt.

In 1996, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Czuleger denied a new trial, saying that two of the five witnesses were not believable and that the others may have been mistaken. Czuleger also said that Hunt was adequately represented by attorney Arthur Barens. Hunt had contended that Barens did not present additional evidence, which would have been helpful for his defense, at his trial.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld Czuleger's rulings in January. Hunt, acting as his own lawyer, appealed to the state Supreme Court. But none of the justices voted Wednesday to grant a hearing on his appeal.

Hunt was 23 in 1983 when he founded the Billionaire Boys Club, an investment and social club of young men from prominent Southern California families. The members were enthralled by fast cars, designer clothes, trendy nightclubs and get-rich-quick schemes.

By 1984, however, the group's financial schemes were in disarray.

Prosecutors argued that Levin duped Hunt in a commodities swindle. As a result, Hunt and his bodyguard, Jim Pittman, killed Levin, then hid the body somewhere in the Angeles National Forest, according to prosecutors.

In 1987, Hunt was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. In an interview years later, Pittman admitted shooting Levin on orders from Hunt.

Hunt also was accused of murder in a separate case. Businessman Hedayat Eslaminia was slain in 1984 in what prosecutors said was an extortion plot to salvage the club's foundering financial fortunes. Hunt's conviction in the case was overturned on appeal, and the charge against him was dropped after a jury deadlocked at a retrial.

Two other club members, including Eslaminia's son, were convicted of murder in the case and sentenced to life in prison.

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