Life is never really a linear path — and that statement couldn’t be more true for Barry Minkow.
From a teenaged entrepreneur dubbed a huge success and media darling, to a convicted conman who betrayed the trust of many people (twice), to now the subject of a three-part docuseries on Discovery+… You could say Minkow has seen his life unfold in many different ways.
In “King of the Con,” we get an inside look at the San Fernando Valley native’s life, crimes and road to redemption. But we also get to see everyone he worked with, worked against and every character in between. Minkow however lays it all out right from the beginning of the first episode: “This is probably the first honest interview I’ve done.”
Minkow had no motivation to do a series in any capacity, but after three different studios approached him, his tune began to change once he realized what he could do for others. And it’s very different from his past.
“I did 15 years in prison so whoever watches this doesn’t have too,” he explains. “There may be some bad people out there… but not as bad as I was. I’m a two-time loser with 15 years in prison under [my] belt, [and I’ve] violated a position of trust as a pastor. If there’s hope for me and I can be given another chance, how much more is there for those out there who have been cast off by society, struggling with addiction like I was, failed in business, or even who have been in prison and back? I just wanted to give hope to people who were far less bad than I was.”
Minkow claims he’s done the worst. He started his first business when he was just 16 years old: ZZZZ Best, a carpet-cleaning company, in the garage of his Reseda home in 1982. Over the course of the next several years, he had received national acclaim on Wall Street by making his company public before he could even legally drink, and he was well known in the public eye, even appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” His fall from grace, however, was just as swift.
After a disgruntled victim of his crime reached out to a reporter, cracks were shown in the business’s design. The series goes into just how deep it went for Minkow and ZZZZ Best, and it’s almost unbelievable. You hear it all and more in interviews done with old co-workers, partners and even family members.
“That was brutal,” he says. But, Minkow needed to lay all the cards out on the table for people to see just how deep in it he was. “If you lie to get money, if you betray positions of trust, if you take shortcuts… You’re going to do time. You don’t have to do it because I did it. I’m going to tell you what you’re thinking, I’m going to tell you the rationales you’re using… don’t do it.”
Minkow was convicted of fraud in 1988 for his Ponzi scheme — which was connected to the mob — and he served almost eight years on a 25-year sentence. He then got married, adopted twin boys from Guatamala with his wife, Lisa, and even became the pastor of the San Diego Community Bible Church after finding God in prison. He also founded the Fraud Discovery Institute to investigate fraud for the FBI and FCC, working with the government to uncover crooks like him. He did some good there, but it all came crashing down again in 2011.
The five-year stint that year was the outcome of using his work as a fraud detector to commit securities fraud, and then for the embezzlement of $3 million from his San Diego church. What kept him from really changing was his own moral compass, one that he says he created to sleep better at night. In an almost Robin Hood fashion, he would justify what he was doing by thinking he was amassing good somehow in another capacity. You see early on in the first episode a decision he makes at a young age using a money order machine while someone else’s back was turned to clear funds he didn’t have. He makes a judgement call in that moment, one he thinks was right. It took Minkow two stints in prison to realize what really motivated him.
“I’m not a whiner or complainer about my upbringing. I had great parents and what I did had nothing to do with that. But I was driven to make money early on because of their financial hardships,” Minkow says.
The desire to be needed and the power that came with his position was what drove his hand illegally once again in the San Diego case. Plus an addiction to Oxy and painkillers, an affair, and secret stints in rehab didn’t exactly help. “Even though I should have been satisfied with a wonderful church, wonderful congregation, wonderful people, I was not. I wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t grateful and I wasn’t content with what I had. That’s always a danger. In the case of ZZZZ Best it was for money, for the church, I wasn’t content.”
He was 45 when he went back in and he left behind his family this time around.
“It was the most brutal experience because it really gave me the consequences of narcissism. I’m now hurting daily because of it,” Minkow explains. “For me, narcissism has been a struggle my whole life. So, I can relate to people who were narcissistic, and I don’t judge them and I’m not a hater. I’m compassionate to them. But, it’s critical to me to put the needs of others above myself. What else is the Christian faith but that? And I failed miserably. It’s a constant daily battle for people who have the propensity to love themselves more than others. It’s the most dangerous attitude to have.”
As the series unfolds you learn more about what went into every facet of Minkow’s crimes, and also, what helped him become more self-aware about his actions. He credits forgiveness from his wife, from his sons, from people he wronged, and what his mentors from prison instilled in him as what makes change possible.
“Nobody likes a whiner, I got what I deserve. When the show runner said to me, I want a list of people who hate you — he got it,” Minkow says. “The world isn’t changed by forgiveness, the world is changed by forgivers. I am so grateful for the forgivers in my life.”
Now, Minkow still works on uncovering fraud cases — he does have expertise that sets him apart in that regard. He also has help at holding himself accountable and making sure he doesn’t hold positions of power.
“I have a limited scope reach with this docuseries,” Minkow finishes. “I’m after people who have betrayed positions of trust, who lie to get money, who struggle with addiction, who have been in and out of prison — those are my people. I want to reach them with this docuseries. I want to show you there’s hope.”
“King of the Con” will be streaming on Discovery+ starting Jan. 14.