Note to stock market commentators (and fraud experts) everywhere: If you're going to make false statements about a publicly traded company, don't do it on YouTube.
The United States Attorney for southern Florida and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Thursday charged a one-time entrepreneurial whiz kid who already has spent time behind bars for fraud with manipulating the stock of a public company.
Accused of making false and misleading statements about Lennar Corporation, a home builder based in Florida, is Barry Minkow, 44, of San Diego.
In this YouTube video, Minkow represents himself as the co-founder of an organization called the Fraud Discovery Institutes and goes on to attack Lennar in a rundown of "top 10 red flags for fraud." Among his comments: Lennar is operating a "financial crime in progress.''
This is the same Minkow who spent seven years in prison, after famously starting the ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company in the 1980s. He started the company as a teenager in his family’s Southern California home and at 21 became the youngest person in U.S. history to take a company public.
The company purportedly restored water- and fire-damaged buildings. Authorities determined the project was a scam, investors lost more than $100 million and Minkow was convicted of 57 counts of securities, credit card and mail fraud.
Which gave him credentials, apparently to lead a Fraud Discovery Institute.
But the firm was a for-profit fraud investigation firm and Minkow, according to prosecutors, was hired put economic pressure on Lennar to pay money demanded by a business partner in a land deal.
In the charges filed Thursday, Minkow was accused by the U.S. Attorney and the FBI with making false and misleading statements that alleged wide-spread improprieties in Lennar Corporation's financial reporting and business structure, and attacking the personal character of Lennar's management.
And he went on the Web to do it. According to the prosecutors, Minkow used the Internet, e-mail communications, and YouTube videos to broadcast false and misleading statements about Lennar, with the intent of artificially depressing Lennar's stock price.
He also used more conventional press releases and ground mail.
As part of his fraud discovery effort, he developed relationships with federal fraud investigators. His allegations "induced law enforcement to open a criminal investigation,'' and that event allowed Minkow to trade Lennar securities "for his own benefit.''
It also led to a 20 percent drop in the price of Lennar stock.
"This type of deceit and abuse of trust will not be tolerated,'' said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer.
If convicted, Minkow faces a maximum of five years in prison.
That could well be where he winds up, for a second time.
Minkow plans to plead guilty to the charge of making false allegations, according to his lawyer, Alvin Entin, the Miami Herald reported Thursday.
Here is the information brief filed by the U.S. Attorney.