Bad Penny Watch: Two scamsters reappear in the news

Unlike Gen. Douglas MacArthur's old soldiers, old con men neither die nor fade away: They either resurface with new scams or relive their old ones in the pages of glossy magazines.

Say hello (again) to Barry Minkow and Dana Giacchetto.

Minkow, now 48, first hit the public's eye with a big splotch in the early 1980s as the whiz-kid teen entrepreneur behind ZZZZ Best, a Reseda carpet-cleaning company. But ZZZZ Best's success turned out to be a tall tale based on fraudulent billings and other scams. Minkow did his first term in stir.

In 2009 he reappeared, now as a reformed swindler who had experienced a religious conversion in prison and was doing the Lord's work by by pastoring at the San Diego Community Bible Church while exposing CEOs with fake degrees on their resumes, etc., etc. Among his targets was home builder Lennar Corp., whose stock he drove down by alleging all sorts of business improprieties.

We interviewed Minkow at the time. Our conclusion? He was still scamming. Sure enough, that episode ended with his pleading guilty to fraud in connection with the Lennar affair and receiving a five-year prison sentence. 

He got out early and reconnected with the church. What d'you know? As my colleague Scott Reckard reported, in no time he was accused of embezzling $3 million from his parishioners, including $75,000 from a widower as a donation for a nonexistent Sudanese hospital to honor the donor's wife, who had died of cancer.

His federal prosecutor called Minkow "a predator from the pulpit." Last week he was sentenced to five years in prison. If you want to make some money, bet that after he gets out, he'll profess that this time he's gone straight for real, will find some credulous souls to take him in, and will take them for everything they're worth in return.

Then there's Dana Giacchetto, now 51, who was pictured earlier this month in the Hollywood Reporter lounging in a leather booth at a fancy restaurant, a big steak on the plate before him. He says he was woefully misunderstood back in 2001, when he was sentenced to 57 months in jail  for taking as much as $10 million from celebrity clients of his investment business -- Leo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Cameron Diaz. "I got in over my head on deals that lost money. But I never stole," he says. 

His latest, er, difficulty? It's a federal complaint charging him with using another person's credit card to pay for "food, liquor, travel, moving and dentistry," as The Times reported. He denied the charges in New York federal court and is out on bail. 

Giacchetto and Minkow plainly both know in their larcenous souls that the public loves a sinner -- or at least is endlessly fascinated with the sin. That's the secret behind the Martin Scorsese film "The Wolf of Wall Street," a true-ish recounting of the 1980s saga of Jordan Belfort, another highflying scamster. Do you like irony? Belfort's portrayed in the movie by DiCaprio, the one-time victim of Giacchetto, who says in the Hollywood Reporter piece that he loves the movie (though "not the stealing-money-from-poor-people part").

Do tell. That's the problem with resurrecting these aging con men and taking them at their own level of self-esteem. The poor people who got stolen from -- they don't make it into the movie. (Belfort, who is riding high as the subject of a hit movie, still hasn't paid back all his victims.) The rich people who got stolen from -- they make it into the movie. In fact, they make the movie. And that may be one reason that the criminals' efforts at atonement always seem to fall just a bit flat.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.

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