Do a “Google” for Billionaire Boys Club and you’ll get nearly 1 million results. The story gained worldwide attention when ‘Joe Hunt, 27 years old, was accused of murdering Ronald Levin, a Beverly Hills entrepreneur and admitted confidence man who disappeared on June 6, 1984. The body of Mr. Levin, then 42, has not been found.’1
Media coverage of the BBC murder trial was extensive and a TV movie was produced to tell the bizarre details. A theater remake starring Kevin Spacey is being released in 2017. But what about Ron Levin, the con man who scammed the scammers, leading to his unconfirmed death while awaiting a trial of his own for grand theft of more than $1,000,000 of broadcast television equipment?
I knew Ron Levin, and had a brief encounter with the BBC at his Beverly Hills home. My side of the story begins on the streets of Los Angeles.
In the early 1980s, I owned Southern California News Service, Inc – one of the biggest freelance newsgathering (aka stringer) companies in LA, and was partnered with Broadcast News Service in New York City, the company known as the grandfather of overnight video news. Ron Levin was my main competition, but his business methods were far from legitimate. Ron managed to scam camera and editing equipment from Panasonic, Thomson CSF, and even a remote news van from ENG Corporation. His game was to claim that he was producing a movie about “stringers.” What he was actually doing was getting in on the profitable freelance news gathering trade without incurring the costs of purchasing the necessary (and expensive) equipment.
About 6 months into Levin’s supposed movie-making career, the companies who loaned him the equipment were getting suspicious when he couldn’t show them any progress and kept stalling when they asked him to return their equipment. Eventually, they contacted Beverly Hills Police to ask their assistance. One of my friends, a salesman for Thomson-CSF called me and asked if I would be willing to help. I then received a phone call from Detective Paul Edholm who requested my assistance in setting up a sting operation. They had been trying to arrest and convict Levin many times over a 20-year period. Ron had already done time in federal prison for mail fraud but somehow managed to avoid further attempts by authorities to lock him up for life. Being the type of person who believed in law and order (not to mention the elimination of my competition) I agreed to facilitate and asked what they wanted me to do.
Detective Edholm said they needed to know if and when the equipment would be in Levin’s home so they could come in and catch him red-handed with the stolen items. I said no problem and arranged a time to visit Ron to inspect the editing machines to determine if they would be suitable for my client’s purpose. The Panasonic M-2 format wasn’t very popular, so there weren’t many in operation. On December 23, 1983, I went to Ron’s home and verified that the equipment was indeed there, and set up a time the next day for editing. While visiting, there were several young men in his living room. He introduced them to me, explaining that they were a very wealthy investment group…the BBC. Joe Hunt and the others seemed to shy away from any conversation and even tended to turn away from me as if to hide any possibility of me recognizing them later. I left and contacted BHPD. I asked if they needed me to go to the house the next day, but Edholm said no…we’ll take it from here.
December 24, 1983, I received a call from BHPD. “Thanks for your help…Levin is in custody.” Because of the Christmas holiday, it took a few days to get a bail hearing, but eventually he was set free to wait for a trial on grand theft charges. He never made it to court, because he disappeared on June 6, 1984…allegedly killed by the BBC. I say allegedly because there is another side to the story. Joe Hunt is still trying to prove his innocence and says that Ron Levin is still alive.
The BBC story is being told once again in the latest movie about the Billionaire Boys Club, scheduled for release July 19, 2018.. And if you’re interested in the story of freelance overnight news gathering, take a look at “Nightcrawler.” There’s a lot more fact than fiction in that movie.2
Marcia Clark did an outstanding job of investigating the BBC case in her A&E series “The First 48”