EX-CON ARTIST TAKES TO AIRWAVES WITH ADVICE ON AVOIDING FRAUD.
A year ago, former carpet-cleaning con artist Barry Minkow was sitting in an Echo Park halfway house after serving more than seven years in prison for fraud.
Monday morning, he was sitting in a radio station studio overlooking the food court of the Fallbrook Mall, giving advice to Los Angeles radio listeners on detecting consumer fraud and avoiding mistakes in running a small business.
Minkow, 30, said his show, ``Fraud Biz,'' which had its first airing Monday morning, is intended to teach people how not to run a small business.
``I have no business telling people how to run a business,'' said Minkow in an interview after the show. ``We're trying to help the small-business person not make the same mistakes I've made.''
The irony that the debut of a show on avoiding fraud - hosted by a former con artist - fell on April 1 was not lost on Minkow.
``It is April Fools' Day, but this is no joke,'' Minkow told his KWNK-AM (670) audience.
Minkow was convicted in 1988 of 57 counts of fraud in connection to his ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning business, which he started in his parents' Reseda garage at age 16. He spent more than seven years in prison before being released in April 1995.
Since his release, Minkow has published a book on the ZZZZ Best fiasco, ``Clean Sweep,'' and has given seminars on fraud detection for agencies such as the FBI, with most of the profits going to repay his victims.
Minkow said he is not yet earning money for the radio show, but that if and when he does, the profits will go into a trust fund for his victims.
On Monday's show, Minkow and his guest - Christopher Byron, a financial reporter who wrote about the ZZZZ Best case - answered questions on too-good-to-be-true mail-order offers, fraudulent gold investments and dishonest accountants.
One caller, an accountant, asked Minkow about the adversarial relationships accountants often have with their clients over disclosure of financial information.
``I say this: Go to lunch with your clients, love your clients, appreciate their business. But when you put on that jacket and you step into that company, you're all business,'' Minkow answered him. ``If you're afraid to ask the tough question, then I think you've lost your objectivity.''
KWNK's general manager, Bill Cabranes, said he was not immediately anxious to bring Minkow's show to the station, which aside from ``Fraud Biz'' is all-sports.
``They came to us, and we were not really interested in doing it, I must admit,'' Cabranes said. He said he had met Minkow when he was a teen-age entrepreneur, and disliked him at the time.
``My impression of him was that he was an obnoxious, smart-ass kid who was looking for trouble,'' Cabranes said.
But after meeting with Minkow about two months ago, Cabranes said he was convinced that the prison time had turned Minkow around. ``I liked what he had to say,'' Cabranes said.
PHOTO Barry Minkow makes his AM radio debut Monday with ``F raud Biz.''
Phil McCarten/Daily News