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Family Believes Organized Crime Behind Killing of Video Exec and Wife

August 26, 1989 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The family of an entertainment executive found slain in his Beverly Hills mansion believes mobsters had him executed because he refused to do business with them, his sister said Friday.

″We think he made the mistake of buying a business that had been used before by the Mafia, and we think he was trying to run it straight,″ Marta Menendez-Cano of West Palm Beach, Fla., said after a memorial service.

Her brother, Jose E. Menendez, was found shot to death Sunday night along with his wife, Kitty, 44, in their home, a $4 million Spanish-style mansion with a tennis court.

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Menendez, 45, once headed RCA-Ariola Records as well as the U.S. rental car operations for the Hertz Corp.

He was chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Live Entertainment Inc., an affiliate of Carolco Pictures Inc. in the video and music distribution business, and had been praised for improving the company’s performance.

Two of the three companies operated by Live Entertainment had been linked to organized crime before Live Entertainment bought them, although Live Entertainment acting President Roger R. Smith has vehemently rejected suggestions that the deaths may have a mob link.

Ms. Menendez-Cano, the dead man’s sister, and former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, a friend for nearly a decade, described Menendez as absolutely honest, although an extremely aggressive businessman.

″He was very direct, although he had a great sense of humor,″ said Curb, the owner of a small record label who met Menendez when Curb was negotiating with RCA to distribute a record by the country act The Judds.

″Sometimes he had to tell people things they didn’t want to hear,″ Curb said. ″But he was a wonderful guy, an absolutely outstanding person. I just can’t believe something like this could happen.″

Curb and Ms. Menendez-Cano spoke outside a memorial at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, where 400 people listened to the Menendez’s sons, Eric, 18, and Lyle, 22, eulogize their parents.

Ms. Menendez-Cano said she had been unaware that two of her brother’s companies had once been linked to organized crime until she read newspaper stories on the killings. She said her brother had always tried to keep the video business clean.

″The first thing he did was to get rid of the porno business,″ she said. ″Because of his success, he probably was stepping on many shoes, which some people didn’t like.″

International Video Entertainment, which Live Entertainment purchased in 1986, had been owned by Noel C. Bloom. Bloom was identified in a California attorney general’s report on organized crime that year as a major distributor of X-rated movies and a former associate of the late Michael Zaffarano of the Bonanno organized-crime family.

Peter Hoffman, Carolco’s president and chief executive, said International Video Entertainment itself was never involved in pornography.

The other company with a crime-linked past was BeckZack Corp., which owns the 81-store Strawberries audio and home-video retailing chain in the Northeast. Live Entertainment completed its acquisition of BeckZack this June.

Beckzack’s principal shareholder, Morris Levy, was convicted in May 1988 of conspiring to extort payments from a record wholesaler. He remains free pending an appeal of his conviction.

An FBI affidavit filed in federal court in New York in connection with an investigation of Levy quoted an unidentified informant as saying that a faction of the Genovese crime family owned an interest in the Strawberries chain. The documents called Levy ″a lucrative source of cash and property″ for the Genovese family leaders.

Ms. Menendez-Cano said her brother had big plans to expand. ″He said he would be controlling the East Coast video business, through his careful planning, in the next couple of years.″

Live Entertainment announced Friday that it was forming a committee to search for a successor to Menendez.