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Film based on Barry Minkow's life needs new ending

'Minkow' tells the story of a man who turned his life around after his carpet-cleaning firm turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. But now his plan to plead guilty in an insider-trading case causes a problem for the completed movie.

March 19, 2011|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times

Barry Minkow's life story makes for a classic Hollywood movie: Teen becomes tycoon, goes to prison for $100-million Ponzi scheme, turns his life around while locked up, becomes a minister and fraud investigator.

But a recently completed inspirational drama about the ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning swindler now needs a new ending, as the purportedly reformed Minkow could be headed back to prison for as much as five years after agreeing to plead guilty in an insider-trading case, his attorney said earlier this week.

Minkow not only invested in the $4-million production but also plays himself in the independently financed movie.

"Minkow" was shown at this month's Berlin International Film Festival and was set to be offered to potential distributors at the film market in May at the Cannes Film Festival. Although the film could still make it to the famous French festival, it will probably need to be revised and lose its fairy-tale ending, the movie's director, Bruce Caulk, said Friday.

"Obviously, there's been a turn of events," said the director. "The movie did just get a lot more interesting."

On Wednesday, Minkow's attorney said his client would plead guilty to a count of trading on nonpublic information as part of a federal probe in Miami. Details of the case have not been disclosed. San Diego's Community Bible Church, where Minkow had been a minister, announced that he had resigned earlier this week.

Caulk said he had worked closely with Minkow in making the film, which co-stars James Caan and Ving Rhames, but might no longer have access to Minkow's acting services as he considers several options in how to modify the picture. The director said he might use a television news anchor who is already in the movie to update Minkow's status.

Producer Bret Saxon said he needed to speak with Minkow over the weekend before deciding what to do next. "We need to see how it plays out," Saxon said. "We're right in the middle of the storm right now."

Caulk, who hasn't spoken with his subject since the news broke, said, "I feel badly for Barry. I've seen him do some really good things." The director suggested there might be darker forces at work. "When you're uncovering Ponzi schemes," he said, "you're going to make some enemies."

john.horn@latimes.com

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