Before it was a movie, originally back in in 1987 (starring Judd Nelson) and now in 2018 (starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, and Aaron Egerton), it was a very true story. A story so remarkable, and such an indictment of the greed, excess materialism, it could only have happened in L.A. during the 80’s.
A Convicted Felon
Seated at the defendant’s table on April 22nd, 1987, Joe Hunt looked shocked and dazed at hearing his sentence: guilty, of both first-degree murder and robbery. Though only 27, this was not the first time Hunt had bent, if not outright broken the law.
However, this was one of the few instances in which he was being held accountable for his actions. Known for his cunning and charm, it was unusual to see his air of confidence crumble; as his courtroom reaction proved, he was aware of the seriousness of his current situation…and that the death sentence was now on the table.
Just how did the son of a middle-class Chicago family end up in prison, potentially destined for death row? Many who knew him as an adult were not surprised; however, those who associated with him in his youth would not have predicted that he would become a future career criminal.
Joe Hunt, formerly Joseph Gamsky, was rather fittingly born on Halloween of 1959. Over the years his father tried his hand in, and subsequently failed at several business prospects based in the San Fernando Valley, and so the family was at the lower end of the middle-class spectrum.
However, his father still dreamed big, and as Joe’s older brother Greg would reveal, mercilessly pushed his children towards achieving material wealth. He pushed Joe in other ways as well, and according to Joe’s sister, once overturned an entire table onto him in a fit of rage.
For these and possibly other reasons, a younger Joe often kept to himself. After earning a scholarship to the prestigious Harvard School for high school, a classmate described him as “quiet, not popular by any means.” Perhaps he was also intimidated by the signs of opulent wealth surrounding him, as his classmates included the likes of Ron Reagan Jr. and were mostly of a much higher economic bracket. However, all this would eventually change. Like his father, or perhaps because of him, Hunt would develop an insatiable taste for wealth and artfully learn to influence people to get his way, at their expense. Unlike his father, for a time he achieved his lofty ambitions.
“I’ve got the brains you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money. You’ve got the brawn I’ve got the brains, let’s make lots of money” Opportunities, The Pet Shop Boys
The BBC is Born
After Harvard high school, Hunt went on to attend the University of Southern California, but left after three semesters and never completed his studies. Instead, he tried his hand at stock trading in Chicago, until his suspension by the Mercantile Exchange for the use of unethical strategies.
Returning to Los Angeles without a degree and a blemished stock market record, his life of manipulation, lies, and deceit began; he told friends that he not only graduated college, but did so at an accelerated pace and that he was a successful and admired trader. Neither of these, was in fact, true.
Having also been on the debate team (before admitting to fabricating evidence and being kicked off) he used his verbal skills and newly perfected charm on former high school classmates as well as others in the LA area. He soon persuaded several of these young men to join him in making investments, socializing, and living together.
Dean Karny, whose father was a Beverly Hills developer, Tom and Dave May of the May Co. department store dynasty, and over 25 additional men born to wealth, privilege, and prestige joined ranks with Hunt in this newest endeavor. They formed a group called BBC Consolidated.
Originally named after a favorite Chicago bar of Hunt’s, known as the Bombay Bicycle Club, it came to be known as Billionaire Boys Club in no small part because of the Armani suits, sports automobiles, and gorgeous women the men involved became associated with. Hunt was not treated so much as a president of a club as much as a type of dictator; the others all looked up to him as he decided what happened when, and how.
As member Evan Dicker described, “He filled some place like an older brother who you looked up to, and you took a great deal of direction from and even feared displeasing.” Hunt now had the power and admiration he craved; and as the money of investors came rolling in, he soon had the funds to live a life of luxury, that though he always felt entitled to, had been denied him thus far.
“This town is our town, it is so glamorous. Bet you’d live here if you could And be one of us” This Town, The Go-Go’s
Karny’s parents alone invested a total of $175,000 in BBC companies, never to see a penny of it again, let alone make a profit. Few would guess that the men living in condominiums on Wilshire Boulevard with offices in buildings in West Hollywood were in financial difficulties. But, the fact of the matter was that the group’s investments had lost $900,000 by 1984. Investor money was also going to their lofty living habits. Though Hunt received money from doctors, lawyers, producers, and directors, with no returns, continued interest was in jeopardy.
In other words, money was slowly trickling in, but quickly pouring out. Then, in the midst of the seemingly sinking ship, in walked Ron Levin. Meeting the apparently extraordinarily successful Levin made Hunt believe he had found a way to solve the BBC’s problems and help them earn back the money they had lost, and more.
Levin allegedly conned Hunt into thinking that he would have access to $5 million in an account that he could invest in commodities trading. In reality, Levin set up fake accounts using Hunt’s name after convincing a brokerage company that the purpose of the accounts was to provide him with information for a documentary. Hunt believed he had traded to earn a total profit of $8 million, which he would split with Levin, 50-50. Unfortunately, he soon found out he would never get his $4 million and that he had been deceived by a con artist even more talented than himself.
Hunt was known by members of the BBC to have extremely flexible morality; in other words, he had no true morals at all. As Evan Dicker claimed, “You did what you had to do under the circumstances to achieve your goals, and the ends justified the means.” Hunt, determined to get money would stop at nothing; according to several club members, he was even willing to commit murder. He allegedly admitted to killing Levin with fellow club member Pittman after forcing him to sign a $1.5 million check. Unfortunately for Hunt, the check bounced.
However, he had still, in a way, got his revenge. To Hunt, who had spent the first part of his life feeling at times inferior to others, and the second part determined to be their equivalent if not superior, image was everything. As Pittman later explained, “Levin was the first person ever to make Joe look like a fool in front of the rest of the guys.” To be made a fool of for all to see was unforgivable; Ron Levin had severely underestimated the value Hunt placed on his reputation, with fatal consequences.
Guilty as Hell
The most compelling evidence of Hunt’s involvement in the crime was a list he had meticulously created and called “At Levin’s TO DO” which included the points: “Tape mouth, hand cuff, put gloves on, explain situation, scan for recorder, kill dog.” It was in Hunt’s handwriting.
Pittman, his accomplice, was tried for the murder as well, twice, but because the jury was uncertain who fired the gun, he was able to plead guilty to accessory to murder after the fact for punishment of time served. However, he later confessed on television to be the trigger puller at Hunt’s direction, citing double jeopardy and immunity from future prosecution.
During this confession he confirmed Karny’s prior claims: Pittman shot Levin in the back of the head (on Hunt’s orders) after which he was rolled in a comforter and dumped in a canyon. However, even after leading investigators to the supposed spot (with a film crew), no body was found. The biggest hope Hunt had in escaping a conviction during his trial was the missing body, and likely, in Hunt’s mind, he believed this would be his way out of his newest predicament, escaping punishment again as he had so many times before.
Hunt’s lawyers reminded the jury that, after all, Hunt was not the first individual that Levin had scammed; in fact, he had conned several organizations out of a stunning $1 million worth of various high-tech equipment. Hunt’s defense alleged that the reason there was no body was that there was no murder; Levin had many reasons to want to disappear. In support of this, a couple in Tucson claimed they had encountered a man who matched a picture of Levin they had seen in a magazine after his supposed demise.
However, the jury remained unconvinced; Hunt was convicted of murder in 1994. He did ultimately escape the death penalty, not because there was any doubt in the juror’s minds, but because there wasn’t. As juror Dean Rutherford revealed, “We decided that the death penalty was too quick.” Similar satisfaction at the thought of Hunt in jail was expressed by Levin’s stepfather, who said with a sneer, “He’s guilty as hell. Now he gets his just desserts.”
The Second Murder
Following his trial for the shooting of Levin, Hunt faced a second trial along with other BBC members for yet another murder: that of an elderly ex-Iranian army major.
After the original plan of getting funds from Levin ended without a windfall, Reza Eslaminia, a BBC member, was the supposed originator of a plan to kidnap his wealthy father, Hedayat Eslaminia, torture him until he signed over his money, and then murder him. However, in another failed attempt at gaining wealth, the senior Eslaminia died of suffocation in the car trunk before they could access his money.
Karny, acting on behalf of the prosecution in both murder cases in exchange for immunity, led police to Hedayat’s bones.
Ultimately, in this case, charges against Hunt and Pittman were dropped. However, two other members, including Reza Eslaminia, were successfully convicted and sentenced to time in jail.
Where are They Now?
Convicted of Ron Levin’s murder in 1994, Hunt remains behind bars and without the possibility of parole. He is, however, now married, having exchanged nuptials with Tammy Gandolfo while in prison. The two met in 1987 after Tammy offered Hunt her paralegal services for his second murder trial. Hunt’s charms are apparently as strong as ever, and the now Mrs. Hunt is not only convinced of his total innocence but describes her feelings for him as “an unconditional love.”
In exchange for Karny’s testimony against other BBC members, he is now living under a federal witness protection program.
Pittman died from kidney failure in 1997.
As for Reza Eslaminia, state prosecutors dropped all charges against him concerning the death of his father in 2000. He maintains his innocence.
Finally Making a Real Profit
Ironically, the story of The Billionaire Boys Club has made a lot of money, money Hunt tried so desperately to attain through his shady, underhanded, and downright cold-blooded techniques, with at first a little success, but then devastating failure upon failure.
Upon his arrest, legitimate, albeit distasteful, money-making became an actual possibility. Soon after his imprisonment, Hunt hired not one, but two agents in an attempt to get $1 million for his story. A television miniseries and multiple books were underway in the 80s, and this trend only continues today. A new movie, starring Kevin Spacey and Emma Roberts is set to hit theatres August 17th of this year.
IMDB describes the film as covering a story about “a group of wealthy boys in Los Angeles during the early 1980s [who] establish a ‘get-rich-quick’ scam that turns deadly.” As to whether it can successfully portray the commanding presence, charm, and manipulative abilities of Hunt, along with his underlying psychopathic and murderous tendencies has yet to be seen. Hunt’s accomplishments have been called unbelievable; can a movie make them appear more real?