Debts Were Deadly Business, Say Police Probing Series of Hits
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ It could almost be black comedy. A show-biz whiz kid done in for insurance, the prime suspect dying just as police close in. Hired guns mistakenly killing a flight attendant and botching a hit on a private eye.
But this is no celluloid saga of Southern California sleaze.
One person was shot to death in a Sunset Boulevard parking garage, another in a park in the suburbs. Police are pleading for help in sorting out the carnage. Focus at first on the short, ambitious life of Barry J. Skolnick. Fueled by high-interest loans, Skolnick expanded sleepy Hollywood Recording Studios, taking on huge TV and movie accounts, buying control of a second struggling studio in New York.
He was still in his 20s when things began to fall apart. The New York studio was a loser, draining the operation in Hollywood, where an expansion ran far over budget.
Skolnick turned for additional borrowing to Premium Commercial Services an Orange County business that operated in the nether world of lending.
Coleman Allen, Premium’s founder, was a bottom-feeder of finance, specializing in struggling businesses turned down by banks.
For Skolnick, the price of loans from Allen became 15 percent a month, then total control of Skolnick’s businesses, said Los Angeles police Detective Dennis Kilcoyne. The New York studio was liquidated, the Hollywood studio signed over to Allen for a $900,000 debt. A year ago, with tax examiners hovering near, Skolnick filed personal bankruptcy and became Allen’s employee.
``My money person is scary,″ Skolnick had said in a secretly taped conversation that surfaced in one of the many lawsuits he left behind.
Barry Skolnick was 30 last January when he was shot to death in the parking garage of Hollywood Recording Studios, part way through giving sworn statements in a suit filed by his former bankers in New York.
A $2.5 million life insurance policy listed Coleman Allen and the studio as beneficiaries.
Several people claim Allen had solicited Skolnick’s murder, but so far no witness has identified the hit man, Los Angeles police Detective Rick Jackson said. A $25,000 reward has been posted for information.
Allen, who was on probation for beating another debtor with a pipe wrench last year, died of heart disease last month at 57. Jackson said that, at the time of his death, tips and financial records were leading straight to him in the Skolnick killing.
Meanwhile, two Los Angeles men, Paul Alleyne, owner of an auto parts store, and Leonard Mundy, an electrician, sit in the Orange County jail in a murder and attempted murder case also linked to Allen.
In Allen’s files both men were listed as debtors whose accounts had been written off as uncollectable.
Alleyne is charged with an attempted hit on James Wengert, owner of a financial investigation firm, who like Skolnick was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to Allen. Wengert was attacked in San Clemente but survived a gunshot to the face.
Not so lucky was Jane Carver, a flight attendant who was shot to death while jogging in a park near her home in Fountain Valley, another Orange County suburb.
Police said they believe the hit man mistook her for Wengert’s wife, Margaret, who had accused Allen in a lawsuit of using strong-arm tactics to seize the Wengerts’ home, also in Fountain Valley.
Mundy is charged with murdering Carver. He denies it, saying he is a victim of circumstance who also had been threatened by Allen, over repayment of about $30,000.
``He had a hit out on me,″ Mundy told The Orange County Register in a jailhouse interview. ``He’s worse than the godfather, man.″
Alleyne’s lawyer, Federico C. Sayre, also categorically denied his client had shot anyone.