‘King of the Con’ Docuseries Reveals the Mind of a Pastor Conman
The Discovery+ documentary series in three episodes king of the scam tells the life story of Barry Minkow, an infamous con artist turned pastor who then robbed a church of $3 million. The Bible warns people like Minkow: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” – Proverbs 26:11 NIV
Minkow’s life could serve as a playbook for corrupt televangelists, as many of the same techniques are used over and over.
Through interviews, Minkow describes how he rationalized his criminal behavior. “In hindsight it seems crazy, but at the time I really didn’t think it was that bad.”
As a teenager, Minkow started ZZZZ Best, a carpet cleaning business, in Inglewood, a small town near Los Angeles. When he was 19, ZZZZ Best went public. When investors bought shares, the company’s value skyrocketed and a year later it was worth $280 million. (Wikipedia gives a good overview of the crimes of Minkow.)
Minkow hired publicist Jeri Carr to promote his business. Local media had fun telling the story of a high school student who started a successful business. Carr and the media were unaware that Minkow also operated an illegal insurance reinstatement program. Insurance companies were billed for work that was never done.
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Early in ZZZZ Best’s story, Minkow needed funding to expand and turned to mob-linked Jack Catain for a loan. The mafia generated large profits through loan sharking, which provided high-interest loans to people and businesses that banks deemed too risky to service.
After ZZZZ Best’s Ponzi scheme collapsed following critical media coverage and a federal investigation, a jury found Minkow guilty of fraud.
Rebranding by creating a new life story
After his release from prison, Minkow rebranded himself playing the role of a reformed ex-felon.
People love redemption stories. Minkow became a pastor and founded the Fraud Discovery Institute. Minkow’s charismatic preaching and interesting stories attracted an audience. His investigations into fraudulent companies have earned him the respect of journalists.
Minkow claimed that while in prison he befriended an inmate nicknamed Peanut who challenged him to stop taking shortcuts in life. According to Minkow, Peanut’s advice was life changing. However, Scott Lowther, senior pastor of Community Bible Church in San Diego, where Minkow previously pastored, doubts Peanut ever existed.
Sometimes religious leaders make up false testimonies to sell themselves.
While Minkow ran ZZZZ Best, America’s most famous “Christian” comedian, Mike Warnke, falsely claimed to be a former Satanist. While Minkow was serving his first prison sentence, televangelist Benny Hinn wrote his dishonest autobiography Hello, Holy Spirit containing the lie, “My father was the mayor of Jaffa during my childhood.” Jim Bakker is the author of the book I was wrong remake the repentant pastor.
In the early 1990s, televangelists Robert Tilton, Larry Lea, and W. V. Grant were exposed by ABC Prime Time Live with Diane Sawyer aided by the Trinity Foundation; and within a few years, WV Grant was convicted and spent a year in jail for tax evasion.
Like a leopard that cannot lose its spots (from Jeremiah 13:23), Robert Tilton and WV Grant have never stopped using the worst fundraising techniques down to the present day.
Steal church funds
After a church member in Minkow lost his wife to cancer, the widower donated money to the church to fund the construction of a hospital in Africa for AIDS patients. Minkow took the money for himself.
$50,000 was stolen from the church weeks before Minkow resigned. Although he was never charged, Minkow was the main suspect because the security system had been disabled at the time of the “break-in”. When Minkow quit his job as pastor, the church was pretty much broke.
While robbing the church, Minkow hatched a criminal scheme through his Fraud Discovery Institute. Minkow shorted shares of Lennar Corporation before releasing a report accusing the major home-building company of fraud.
Minkow rationalized his criminal behavior. “It has become a lifestyle and always with the excuse that I discover a fraud. The church is growing. We are expanding. No one is hurt. It’s perfect.”
Minkow relished the excitement that accompanied his criminal conduct: “When you’re doing something wrong, those consequences are eliminated. You know what I mean? You just see the fun. It’s fun on credit, right?
Pastor Lowther thinks Minkow never reformed. “What God intended for good, Barry used for his own personal evil and that’s the ultimate prostitution, I guess.”
This article was originally published by Trinity Foundation.
Barry Bowen is a staff member of the Trinity Foundation, a Dallas, Texas-based public nonprofit organization that has been tracking religious fraud and helping victims for more than 30 years.