Ron Levin: His Criminal History, Documented

The following FBI documents describe how Ron Levin (alias Ronald Rothchild, alias Ronald Levine, alias Sam Goldberg, alias Ronald Weatherby) got out from under FBI charges of bank larceny for passing $250,000 in fake checks: by disappearing.

When the Beverly Hills Police department decided that Joe Hunt was the suspect, with no body and only circumstantial evidence, the letter says, “no further investigation will be conducted.”

 

When investigators began connecting the dots and began looking into Levin’s criminal history, they compiled a list that was “just a sample” of what police had on file under his name: grand theft, battery, stolen property, a stolen vehicle, harassment, robbery (indicated as “211”), burglary, and an alleged drug act involving a minor.

When investigators went to Levin’s listed place of employment, they found that the address was a fake: nothing more than a mailbox in an office building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In an FBI interview with a corporate security administrator for Fidelity Group, investigators learned that Ron Levin deposited bad checks into two accounts and immediately attempted to  withdraw the funds. Following Levin’s suspicious activities, Fidelity hired an investigator, who learned that Levin had an extensive criminal history and had over 100 civil court filings against him, and had associates in organized crime.

In an interview in which Joe Hunt discussed the infamous “to do” list that was part of his trial, Joe mentioned the multitude of lawsuits Levin faced, and how they left the unrepentant con man unfazed.

“The idea of civilly suing him — it’s just like, get in line,” Joe said. Levin had boasted to Boys Club members that he was an expert at converting criminal fraud into a civil matter to avoid arrest, so legal action simply didn’t seem like a meaningful option.

Joe explained that the list was written out not as a literal plan of action, but part of a desperate ploy to intimidate Levin into paying back funds he had swindled from Joe and Joe’s investors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levin tried to pull a similar bank fraud with Progressive Savings and Loan, as detailed in the following letters to the U.S. Attorney:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further FBI investigation revealed that Levin also heisted a drawing by Andy Warhol from an art gallery, and then offered his “services” to the gallery to help recover it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there was Levin’s theft of $500,000 (in 1980s dollars!) worth of video and photographic equipment, detailed in this story from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that called Levin’s loot a “One-man video warehouse.”

The story illustrates that Levin’s criminal history ran the gamut from sophisticated cons to common thievery.

The Joe Hunt Case: The Basics

In 1988, one true crime story dominated the news cycle: The Billionaire Boys Club.

Three decades later, the story has faded from the tabloids, but it remains the painful present-day reality of club leader Joe Hunt, who remains in prison, serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole for a murder he maintains that he did not commit.

Hunt readily admits to financial misdeeds — he became the unwitting head of a ponzi scheme when a con man named Ron Levin bilked him out of a half million of his investors’ dollars, leaving Joe holding the bag. The 23-year-old Hunt naively overextended himself when he took Levin at his word that he would fund a large commodities investment intended to repay investors with a handsome profit. Instead, Levin assured Hunt he could proceed with a purchase made with nonexistent funds. That’s when law enforcement got involved.

Soon after, Levin, who was out on bail and facing an FBI investigation for grand theft and fraud, went missing. In response to police inquiries, the rich kids of the Billionaire Boys club directed attention away from themselves and pointed to Joe, the scholarship kid. Prosecutors decided to charge Joe with Levin’s murder, even with no body and no forensic evidence.

In addition to defending their client, Joe’s lawyers were burdened with the task of filing a judicial misconduct motion for mistrial after Judge Laurence Rittenband, well known as a “prosecutor’s judge,” slapped one member of the defense team with a gag order, leaving a workload meant to be divided among two lawyers to just one.

A Los Angeles Times article about the judge’s conduct explained that the mistrial motion raised charges that “Rittenband deliberately elicited prejudicial evidence against Hunt by questioning witnesses, that he belittled and banished defense staff from the courtroom, that he frequently refused to allow the defense to approach the bench to voice objections and that he aligned himself with the prosecution by grimacing, smirking and showing impatience and disbelief at crucial points in the defense’s cross-examination of witnesses.”

Ultimately, Hunt’s media notoriety (which extended to a fictionalized 1980s made-for-TV movie and a 2018 version of his story starring Kevin Spacey) worked against him in the trial, and he was sentenced to life without possibility of parole — which many observers characterized as an unjust sentence, especially in a murder case with no physical evidence — not even a body. Hunt’s sentence is an anomaly, not comparable to those of his fellow Boys Club members or even far more notorious criminals. For example, even the psychopathic cult leader Charles Manson was granted several opportunities to go before a parole board for his role in multiple murders. Yet Hunt has has never been granted the right to a parole board hearing.

Grants of parole consideration are made not by guilt or innocence, but by an evaluation of an inmate’s rehabilitation, as well as an evaluation of any threat they may pose to public safety. Hunt hangs his hopes on a commutation petition that, if granted, would give him the opportunity to go before a parole board. Hunt, if given the opportunity, could make a strong case. His prison record is blemish-free, and his commutation application includes many letters of support, including letters from prison guards and chaplains.

“In my opinion, Hunt has no inclination to re-offend. All of his activities appear directed towards positive goals,” wrote a correctional officer from Pleasant Valley State Prison. “He has a reputation for helping others. I would place him solidly in the top one percent as far as suitability for reintegration with society.”

It’s testimonies like these — 47 in all are included with his petition — that form the last remaining basis for Hunt’s hope of release.

“I do hope that attention is drawn to the fight of people who have life without the possibility of parole,” Hunt said of the website his family has created to share information about his campaign for release, FreeJoeHunt.com.

Hunt explained that like himself, many of his fellow inmates who have been incarcerated since their youth have made profound changes by the time they reach middle age. “So I do hope that society as a whole becomes acquainted with this fact and they make room for the fact that the the work they have done is redemptive, and possibility invite them back to that role in society.”

 

Levin hunters: This 1996 Los Angeles Times story summarizes the reasonable doubts around Ron Levin’s disappearance.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Dead or Alive?
Billionaire Boys Club founder, convicted of murder, contends victim is still living. Prosecutors doubt witnesses’ accounts.

July 12, 1996
Alan Abrahamson

Ron Levin is dead. Or maybe he’s not.

Joe Hunt helped kill him and then buried the body in the Angeles National Forest.

Or maybe he didn’t and, like Elvis, Levin keeps turning up: at a funeral, driving a car through Brentwood, even relaxing in a taverna on a trendy Greek island.

Levin’s body has never been found.

And therein lies the riddle that has dominated a reprise of the Billionaire Boys Club saga–the drama that riveted Los Angeles in the 1980s and played out again over recent months at the Criminal Courts Building.

Is Levin really dead? Or has Levin, a skilled con artist, staged his own disappearance and pulled the ultimate con?

Hunt, the charismatic leader of the club and himself a man who’s been described as a con of some renown, was convicted nine years ago of murder. Since March, he and his lawyers have been back in court, arguing that he deserves a new trial, mostly on grounds that Levin is alive and well.

Read the rest at LATimes.com

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