By Beth Barrett
UPDATE with church response on next page.
Pity the life of supposedly reformed conman Barry Minkow. Crime seems to follow
Minkow says thieves smashed the glass door of Community Bible Church in San Diego, where he is senior pastor, late Sunday or early Monday, wrecking the office, cracking the safe and stealing
five weeks of the past week's church offerings worth more than $50,000 in cash and checks, 10News reports. The reported theft is doubly unfortunate for Minkow, given his admitted history of staging burglaries to collect insurance money:
Some devastated church members told 10News they thought it must have been an inside job while others suspected a random attack by desperate individuals.
Church member Sue Watt Patton told ABC 10News:
"Obviously (they) knew that was the perfect time to go in there. The offerings from all the services had been made (and) all the money that was put in there to be taken to the bank - they got it."
Minkow, a former carpet-cleaning whiz kid, defrauded investors of as much as $100 million in the 1980s and served seven years in prison for it.
Later, Minkow admitted that as a Los Angeles teen, he fabricated robberies to collect insurance money after getting into cash jams to meet payroll or to expand his fledgling company ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company.
"When payroll got tight again, I was tired of temporary fixes; I wanted a big score," he recalled in a book, They Thought for Themselves. He further stated:
"I staged a robbery at my office, called the insurance company and said, 'We just got robbed. All my equipment was taken.' After a police report had been duly filed, I received a check to replace the 'stolen' equipment."
In another book, Wonder Boy: The Kid Who Swindled Wall Street,, author Daniel Akst describes Minkow, as so "desperate for cash" that in "July or August he staged a phony burglary at his office to collect from his insurance company."
"Barry saw to it that the door was kicked in, and the next morning he called police. He claimed steam cleaners and various other tools were taken, and when he had to be more specific, he cooked up the Cornwell Triple-Vac Dual Pump Waterhead Steamcleaner, a mythical beast that might have dwelt in the land of Seuss or Mary Poppins. The Cornwell Triple-Vac was based on real machines except that 'waterhead'
was added... The scam worked so well that Barry pulled this stunt again and again, until he was claiming ZZZZ Best was victimized by thieves half a dozen times."
Meanwhile, San Diego Police Detective Malacha Tallman says the department has no suspects in the recent church burglary and that "there is no indication it was an inside job."
Tallman said the Mira Mesa area where the church is located "gets hit often."
10News reports that the First Baptist Church in Mira Mesa was burglarized a few weeks ago and a few thousand dollars worth of computers and equipment was stolen.
It was the last thing the church needed.
Minkow and the church treasurer sent a letter to parishioners in September saying the church was $200,000 short of making budget. The letter detailed cutbacks in everything from staff to donuts and reported that Minkow hasn't taken a salary for years.
Community Bible Church had no surveillance cameras, the detective said. She said fingerprints won't be processed for about two months, but added that thieves often wear gloves.
Tallman said the investigating officer recognized Minkow's name because the police academy had used him as a resource in training officers to identify fraud.
The break-in is the latest in a series of setbacks for Minkow.
In his role as fraud buster, he lost a libel and extortion case in Florida two months ago brought by the giant home builder Lennar Corp.
LA Weekly's story about the case, "Barry Minkow's New Scandal," is here.
Lennar had filed suit in 2009 after Minkow, while working as a paid consultant for a foe of Lennar, made unproven allegations against the company, causing its stock to lose 20 percent of its value in two trading days.
Florida State Court Judge Gill Freeman heavily sanctioned Minkow in the Lennar case,
saying he would have to pay the company's attorney and investigative fees, estimated by Lennar in the millions of dollars.
Minkow has said through his lawyer that he will appeal.
Judge Freeman said Minkow went to great lengths to deceive the court: lying, destroying or discarding key evidence and concealing material witnesses as Lennar pressed him to prove his allegations.
Freeman said there was no evidence supporting Minkow's claims that he couldn't produce documents because his computer was "stolen, crashed and/or was hacked." Minkow, in earlier court documents, said he'd had two laptops stolen.
In recent years, Minkow's fraud-busting business, the Fraud Discovery Institute, has issued critical reports on other big businesses, usually taking a short position on the companies' stocks so as to profit when the stock price fell.
LA Weekly wrote extensively about Minkow's controversial new activities here, in the article "Minkow 2.0."
In the Lennar case, Minkow took a short position -- although he lied about it when first asked.
Freeman said Minkow was forced to admit that he had used $2,500 in church funds to pay for one of his consultants in the Lennar case, after initially testifying he'd spent his own money to pay the consultant.
Alan Stewart, the church's elder board treasurer, told the Weekly in an email Wednesday that church officials are still evaluating damage to the property and the cost of the stolen equipment and computers. "Once that is finalized we will file the insurance report."
Stewart said most of the stolen money was in checks. Church leaders believe the "cash portion," or a couple thousand dollars, would be allowed as part of the insurance claim.
Stewart says the missing checks and cash are from last weekend's giving during several services and deposits to a bank had been planned for Monday.
The $50,000 taken from the church is higher than the $37,000 per week Minkow reported as being collected through September. And the church budget was significantly higher than the reported collections, standing at $44,000 per week.
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Stewart said the church has an alarm system, and is evaluating why it didn't work properly. Increased surveillance measures are also under consideration.
The congregation is rallying, he said. "Many of the stolen checks have already been replaced with new ones by the people who gave them. We are hopeful that most will be replaced by those who gave the donations
"We do not expect this incident to affect the viability of the church. We continue to perform all our ministry as we normally would and have faith that God will address our needs adequately and in accordance with His will."
Stewart said he hopes the church will emerge stronger. "The outpouring of concern has been quite remarkable, so I believe that God intends to use this unfortunate incident for good."