Great frauds in history: ZZZZ Best

ZZZZ Best was a carpet-cleaning company set up in 1982 by 16-year-old Barry Minkow, who would use it to run a Ponzi scheme that netted millions.

937_MW_P33_Profile_Bottom
DYYB43

ZZZZ Best was a carpet-cleaning company set up in Inglewood, California in 1982 by the then 16-year-old Barry Minkow, while he was still in school. The company initially struggled for survival. Minkow (pictured) only survived by engaging in credit-card fraud, stealing money from relatives and staging burglaries in order to collect on the insurance. However, the company seemed to find a way to make large amounts of money when it branched out into carpet restoration for insurance firms. The apparent success of this business enabled ZZZZ Best to float in 1986, reaching a peak market capitalisationof $280m.

How did it work?

It didn't the restoration service was completely invented. Minkow created a fake firm, Interstate Appraisal Services, which posed as ZZZZ Best's client. To keep the business running, Minkow took loans from various dubious figures, and shuttled money between bank accounts, in a Ponzi-style scheme. This deception was convincing enough for banks to lend him enough money not only to support an advertising blitz, but also to come close to taking over KeyServ, a competitor.

What happened next?

By May 1987, on the eve of the takeover, the Los Angeles Times published an article detailing that Minkow had previously been involved in $72,000 worth of fraudulent charges and was still refusing to pay some victims back. This caused banks to pull their credit lines; the investment bankers overseeing the KeyServ deal forced an immediate postponement. At the same time it was revealed that some major restoration contracts that ZZZZ Best claimed to have won were made up. By July Minkow resigned as CEO, and was jailed a year later for various counts of fraud.

Lessons for investors

Shareholders in ZZZZ Best were wiped out by the bankruptcy, although they did win a settlement of $35m from the firm's auditors, Ernst & Whinney. One big red flag that things were not how they seemed was that Minkow employed convicted criminals as senior executives. His chief financial officer stayed in place even after being accused of stealing money from customers of his previous firm. For his part, Minkow didn't seem to learn his lesson and was jailed in 2011 for insider trading.

Recommended

Cash rich and bored? Be careful what you do with your money
Investment strategy

Cash rich and bored? Be careful what you do with your money

As the pandemic has left many people with more time on their hands but little opportunity to spend, they have been speculating in the markets. But don…
19 Oct 2020
Jonathan Ruffer: tech stocks have become “long-duration assets”
Tech stocks

Jonathan Ruffer: tech stocks have become “long-duration assets”

As with bonds, tech stocks are now held not because of that they are, but because of what investors fear if they don't hold them, says Jonathan Ruffer…
16 Oct 2020
Investors should give European stockmarkets a second look
European stockmarkets

Investors should give European stockmarkets a second look

Investors tend to think that European stockmarkets are full of stale “old economy” firms while the US is full of fast-growing tech stocks. But Europea…
16 Oct 2020
Lessons for investors from Big Tech's previous golden era
Tech stocks

Lessons for investors from Big Tech's previous golden era

The forerunners of today's tech stock titans dominated the 1960s and 1970s. Former Xerox senior manager Dr Mike Tubbs was there and explains what inve…
16 Oct 2020

Most Popular

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm
Bitcoin

The Bank of England should create a "Bitpound" digital currency and take the world by storm

The Bank of England could win the race to create a respectable digital currency if it moves quickly, says Matthew Lynn.
18 Oct 2020
What would negative interest rates mean for your money?
UK Economy

What would negative interest rates mean for your money?

There has been much talk of the Bank of England introducing negative interest rates. John Stepek explains why they might do that, and what it would me…
15 Oct 2020
Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts
Bank accounts

Negative interest rates and the end of free bank accounts

Negative interest rates are likely to mean the introduction of fees for current accounts and other banking products. But that might make the UK bankin…
19 Oct 2020