DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The leader of an infamous, young group of wealthy fraudsters who inspired a Hollywood show and a movie has been in prison for years, convicted of murder. Now, he's asking for a chance at freedom.
Joseph Hunt gained notoriety in the 1980s at the helm of the so-called Billionaire Boys Club, a group of well-to-do young men who ran a massive Ponzi scheme to fund their lavish lifestyle. Hunt was convicted in 1987 of the murder of Ron Levin, an alleged con artist who swindled the BBC out of millions, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Thirty years on, Hunt says he has turned his life around and hopes to make his case to California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Hunt's friends and family created the Free Joe Hunt campaign asking for signatures to get Hunt's sentence commuted.
"Hi, this is Joe Hunt. I'm calling you from prison over a collect phone call," he says in a recording posted on the website. "Please look around. If you feel so-moved, I would greatly appreciate, my family and my wife would greatly appreciate it if you considered signing and did sign the online petition."
Since Levin's body was never found, a theory has circulated for decades he is still alive. "Joe was convicted of murder, but the defense the entire time was that [Levin's] actually alive and that he's actually a con artist who's conned his way into skipping out on bilking this Billionaire Boys Club," former public defender and trial attorney Alexandra Kazarian told CBS2 News.
Part of his current defense is that he "is a highly spiritual person who does amazing work within his prison," according to the site.
"The argument is that he has created men's groups in prison, spiritual groups, that he's led the spiritual groups, that he's been a model citizen," said Kazarian, who remains doubtful about Hunt's chances. "I don't see that community support behind him where people are championing for him — people that aren't related to him, people that aren't related to the crime. I don't see them championing his release."
A retired detective who worked on the case told CBS2 he's not surprised about Hunt's move but doesn't support it.
Gov. Brown's office would not comment on the case.
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