Possibly, says producer/director Bruce Caulk, “There is a movie about the movie.” (from Minkow)
  • Possibly, says producer/director Bruce Caulk, “There is a movie about the movie.” (from Minkow)
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Bruce Caulk

Bruce Caulk, who has a La Jolla home, is a movie producer/director in Hollywood. He has produced a potential blockbuster, but it needs a rewrite. The movie features high-priced stars, such as Mark Hamill and James Caan. Caulk would like to preserve the footage in any remake.

Barry Minkow created a Ponzi scheme while in his teens (from the Minkow movie)

Barry Minkow

Barry Minkow playing himself. One reviewer: “Minkow can’t act a lick."

But if he only tinkers around the edges of the movie, savvy audiences will know they got cheated. The movie is Minkow, the story of Barry Minkow, who created a colossal Ponzi scheme while in his teens. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. He got religion and got out after 7 years, and in 1997 he was named pastor of the San Diego Community Bible Church.

While serving as minister, he helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Securities and Exchange Commission smoke out scams. In 2001, he set up a company, Fraud Discovery Institute, to reveal smelly details of publicly held companies. He would bet that the stocks would go down when his report hit the wires. (This strategy was legal as long as he revealed his downward bet and the information was accurate.)

He became the national paragon of moral redemption — a reformed con man, now a minister, who went from pulling scams to exposing them. He was featured on 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey. He was regularly interviewed as a Ponzi scheme expert by Neil Cavuto of Fox News Channel. And the Wall Street Journal used him as a reliable scam source.

Initially, Minkow raised money from members of his church congregation to pay Caulk for the movie. Minkow insisted on playing himself in scenes in which he was middle-aged. The film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in early 2011 and was lined up to be shown at the iconic Cannes Film Festival in May of that year.

But while the film was being shot, Minkow had been making very strong charges — using phrases such as “Ponzi scheme” — about Lennar Corporation, the big real estate company. Lennar’s stock had tanked when the news broke. In the past, Minkow had been successful attacking smaller companies, and according to a detailed story in Fortune magazine, had gotten undisclosed payoffs from those firms.

But Lennar was having none of that and provided information to federal investigators.

In March of 2011, Minkow pleaded guilty to criminal insider trading charges in the Lennar adventure. So, here was a movie about a former con artist who had gone straight, becoming a church pastor and fraudbuster. But the hero was headed for five more years in prison. “We held [the movie] back. It was never intended to be distributed,” says Caulk.

“We had made a movie about Barry’s redemption,” says Caulk. He went to work raising money to make the script more closely fit the facts.

Then came further complications. In April of last year, Minkow was sentenced to another five years for embezzling $3 million from the church and its members. Some of the loot had gone to financing the movie. He admitted to stealing donations and skimming money off the top. He took out unauthorized loans in the church’s name. He conned $300,000 from a widow raising a grandchild. In one of his classic ploys, then-Reverend Minkow met in 2008 with a congregation member whose wife had died of cancer. Minkow suggested that the widower honor his late wife with a gift to build a hospital in Sudan. The money never arrived in that country.

Whither the movie? “Sometimes you pull the yarn on a sweater and the whole thing unravels,” allows Caulk. “We will have to integrate his repeated misbehaviors into the second act.” Possibly, he says, “There is a movie about the movie.” To include Minkow’s recidivism, he may have to lengthen the movie from an hour and a half to two hours.

Of course, says Caulk, “It is not a documentary. It is a theatrical narrative.” That will give him some latitude. “Probably a lot of that footage will be used. There are Hollywood tricks. We need some good writing.”

Personally, I wonder if he can patch this together and tell a story touching on the truth. Minkow had been fleecing the church and its congregation since 2001 — only four years after he took over.

San Diegans who dealt with Minkow believe he must be portrayed as a person who never experienced an ounce of atonement. William Newsome, a retired fraud prosecutor in the city attorney’s office, belonged to the church. Initially, he wanted to believe in Minkow. In 2001, he took him to lunch with Anthony Samson, a longtime fraud prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. After the three-hour session, Newsome asked Samson whether he believed Minkow had reformed. Said Samson, “He is still a con. He has found a new venue and context in which to perpetrate cons.”

Darwin Wisdom

Minkow attempted to do business with former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Darwin Wisdom, now in private practice. “I met with him and wouldn’t do business with him,” says Wisdom.

Newsome told the board of elders at the church that Minkow should not be allowed to run Fraud Discovery Institute on the premises. It could jeopardize the church’s tax status. But the charismatic Minkow was filling the pews. The church had borrowed money to purchase audiovisual equipment, but Newsome couldn’t learn the terms of the loan. And “somebody who was sentenced to 25 years in prison should have nothing to do with church finances,” Newsome emphasized. But Minkow was given the chief executive reins over Newsome’s objections.

Several times, Newsome went into Minkow’s office and said, “Your website is continually pumping out false and misleading statements. You are putting yourself at risk.” Minkow paid no attention.

Newsome was excommunicated from the church. When he protested, the elders called the police, who showed up. Newsome left voluntarily.

He has the most credible explanation of Minkow’s psyche. “All Minkow wants is attention — as a villain or a hero. It doesn’t make a difference. He knows the difference between truth and falsehood; he doesn’t care.” When Minkow was sentenced to a second 5-year term, Newsome said the judge had been conned. Minkow “got 25 years for conning big banks, Wall Street, and accounting firms. Then he got only 5 years for conning unsophisticated parishioners. Recidivists should get longer sentences.”

Yes, Caulk needs a writer — one who will do a total rewrite. Minkow never achieved redemption.

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Comments

eastlaker Feb. 25, 2015 @ 8:34 a.m.

Yet another story for a modern opera?

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shirleyberan Feb. 25, 2015 @ 9:04 a.m.

More prison time is a nice plot twist. If the audience knows anything about the self-proclaimed redeemed by their own divinity, they are waiting for when he shows true colors, not if.

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expdx Feb. 26, 2015 @ 9:48 a.m.

Don, why is it that San Diego County seems to attract so many grifters? The truly troubling thing is that they find so many gullible people. Could it be that the continuing drivel from the "Mainstream" (Pun intended) news providers casts a dumbing fog, a June gloom of the reasoning portion of the brain. Ah, well, I guess many want to emulate the Spanos' perfidy. Thanks for your continuing well targeted investigations. Cheers

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ImJustABill Feb. 27, 2015 @ 4:58 a.m.

Perhaps when he is out of prison he will go on the "inspriational" cheaters, liars, and thieves tours to do motivational speaking with Jordan "Wolf of Wall Street" Belfort. Belfort reportedly makes $30K / appearance.

Unfortunately in this country white collar crime does pay.

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Visduh Feb. 27, 2015 @ 8:49 a.m.

Don, we haven't heard from you about all this recent stadium/Chargers hoopla. It has been well-covered by Matt Potter and Dave Rice, but many of us would like to have your take on it. Can we expect to see something soon?

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ImJustABill Feb. 27, 2015 @ 9:50 a.m.

Yes it would be great to hear Don's take on it. So many moving pieces.

Having LA vacant has been the best thing the NFL could have ever hoped for over the last 20 years. They have leveraged the opening in LA to demand many billions of dollars from taxpayers and now almost every NFL market has a fairly new (or newly renovated) taxpayer-funded stadium. But the L.A. goose is about out of golden eggs so now the NFL might as well cook that goose.

After the events of the last month, I think the Chargers are firmly committed to moving to L.A. and have been for quite some time. The Chargers don't care about convincing San Diego because they've decided a long time ago to move. I think the Chargers are only keeping SD in the mix just in case the Raiders and Rams get first dibs on moving to L.A.

I think this is why Fabiani seems OK with the idea of a 2/3 majority ballot initiative - any evidence that the San Diego is resistant to giving corporate welfare to the Chargers will help Spanos argue his case to the other owners about why the Chargers should get to move to L.A.

I think Fabiani's recent antics have been done for the benefit of other NFL owners. Fabiani and the Spanos family want to show other NFL owners that the government and citizens of San Diego have committed the unthinkable crime of robbing the wealthy Spanos family of hundreds of dollars of corporate welfare.

The NFL owners meeting is in late March. I think a lot depends on which 2 teams the NFL owners "bless" as deserving to go to L.A. and how the stadium arms race between Carson and Inglewood turns out.

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Scott Marks Feb. 27, 2015 @ 2:46 p.m.

Don Bauder knows a movie I've never heard of?!

http://www.sandiegoreader.com/users/p...">https://media.sandiegoreader.com/img/..." alt="None">

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laplayaheritage March 1, 2015 @ 1 p.m.

Internet Movie DataBase has the 2015 Minkow movie not yet released, that shows Barry Minkow as an Executive Producer.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441922/?...">http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1441922/?...

Someone added more info to the storyline that may not be in the movie.

'Imprisoned again in 2011 for securities fraud and, in 2014, after pleading guilty to a multitude of charges including defrauding the federal government, Minkow currently owes more than $600 million in restitution."

Barry Minkow also wrote, produced, and starred in his own short comeback movie called Redemption in 2009.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2179931/?r...">http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2179931/?r...

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shirleyberan March 4, 2015 @ 1:16 p.m.

Don - you are my one true love, hope you are well !!

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Wabbitsd March 4, 2015 @ 1:52 p.m.

There was just a segment on this on one of those True Crime Shows...and included video with executives of Lennar Corp, the company that Minkow tried to blackmail.

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