Joe Hunt: White Collar Psychopath
Joe and his older brother were both admitted into a prestigious Los Angeles prep school, the Harvard Club, on a scholarship. Joe, 12, didn't fit in very well with the children of actors, moviemakers, and corporate businessmen. His principal liability was his family's lack of money, but at that point in his development, he was also socially awkward. He joined the forensic club, which gave him a modest social life, but when he falsified evidence during a debate, he was kicked off. He took it hard, but rebounded.
Joe's father, who insisted that his children call him Larry, viewed himself as Joe's teacher. He insisted, as Sue Horton put it, that his children become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. After Joe dropped out of the University of Southern California, Larry sent him to business school, where at the age of 19, he passed the examination for Certified Public Accountant. While he was the youngest person to have been successfully tutored for it by a specific firm, he bragged that he was the youngest person in the entire state of California to have passed the exam. (In the film based on Horton's book, he's presented as the youngest in the entire country.)
Joe managed to impress two other young men, Dean Karny and Ben Dosti, who had attended the Harvard School as well. He began to hang around with them and mentioned that he would like to start an investment club with members from well-to-do families who could make a good impression and help the club to succeed. He described some of his ideas for trading commodities at low risk, and the other boys were impressed. He also told them he wanted to create a corporation with a Utopian atmosphere based on the works of Ayn Rand, where each person would do what he was best qualified to do. However, he would need money to get started.
Then in 1980, Joe's father, divorced from Kathy, moved to Chicago. Joe went with him and learned his way around the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He was a bold trader, impressing those around him, and he managed to do very well. He convinced Dean Karny's parents to invest money with him, and they gave him $150,000.
It was right around that time that Joe's father changed his name to Ryan Hunt, and Joe followed suite by accepting the new last name. The difference was that Larry changed his name through legal channels and Joe did not.
Then in short order, he lost 14 million dollars. His story was that he'd been squeezed out by people who were jealous of his success. In the movie, he named the Mafia and a Middle East conglomerate, but in Horton's book, he blamed a large brokerage house. When he returned to L.A. two years after he'd left, he had four dollars, but he assured those who had lost money with him that he had a surefire plan for making it back, and then some. For some reason, they believed him.
Sullivan sums it up: "You won power over a person through the knowledge of two things, Joe explained: One was what they wanted, the other was what they feared."
What the investors did not know was the Joe had actually taken their money but had failed to register it under the investors' names. He was investigated and then suspended from trading for ten years.
However, that didn't stop Joe Hunt. He knew ways around the system, and he soon inspired Ben and Dean to help him gather people for a club, which he wanted to call the BBC, after the Bombay Bicycle Club in Chicago, where he used to play videogames.
It wasn't difficult for three young men, dressed well and with the gift of the gab, to interest other young men in their ideas. After all, image was everything, and they looked pretty good. Ben and Dean believed in Joe, and Joe knew how to talk a good talk. In short order, the club was up and rolling, fed by naïve and gullible investors.
Sullivan quotes one man who had just met Joe as walking away with the feeling that there was hope for future generations after all.