In 1983, at the age of 16, Barry Minkow started a carpet cleaning and restoration business called ZZZZ Best. However, he couldn't finance it properly because California law at the time forbade minors from opening checking accounts, and the only kinds of businesses that deal exclusively in cash usually involve bullets, heroin and prostitutes.
Do not try the Asian salad.
So he did the next best thing to getting a real checking account: He stole his grandma's jewelry and staged break-ins at his business to generate funds, and used check kiting to cover his credit card expenses. He also pulled tricks like borrowing letterhead from other companies to give the appearance of authenticity. In 1986, ZZZZ Best went public, and within a year its stock was worth $18 a share and Minkow had netted a cool $100 million, a mansion, a Ferrari Testarossa and balls so huge that light could not escape their massive gravitational pull.
He went so far as to bribe a security guard at a recently built office complex to show a group of auditors just how incredibly great his restoration crew was, claiming that the building had been in terrible shape until it was restored by his people.
People started getting wise to the fact that the incredibly profitable insurance restoration part of Minkow's business was utter crap, and began digging around. When all was said and done, he earned himself 25 years in prison on 54 charges ranging from racketeering to money laundering and several types of fraud.
The Secretly Brilliant:
Despite getting his ass handed to him by the law, Minkow served just under seven and half of his 25 years, earned three degrees in Ministry (appropriately majoring in Apologetics), and started FDI, a company that specializes in exposing corporate fraud. It claims to have "experience on both sides of the law concerning financial fraud," which feels a lot like having Jeffrey Dahmer ride along with some paramedics for advice on human anatomy.
"No no, stick the IV into his eyeball. It works better that way."
Barry and FDI have tackled some big cases, preventing over $1 billion in fraud since their inception. In 2008, FDI revealed that the CFO of the company Herbalife had falsified the education portion of his resume in order to get the job. He quit the company in disgrace, leading to a sudden decline in the value of its stock. Luckily, Minkow sold his substantial share of Herbalife stock just before the fraud was uncovered.