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Billionaire Boys Club Defendant Pleads Guilty
Once-convicted suspect gets four years' probation, leaving only victim's son to be tried

By Matthew B. Stannard
The San Francisco Chronicle
August 5, 2000

San Mateo -- One of the most notorious and expensive murder cases ever tried in San Mateo County quietly closed another chapter yesterday, as Arben Dosti pleaded guilty to manslaughter and kidnapping for his part in the 1984 Billionaire Boys Club murder case.

Court records show that Dosti was sentenced to the time he already has served -- 12 years, 8 months -- and ordered to serve four years of probation for his part in the kidnapping and killing of a former Iranian official and Belmont resident, Hedayat Eslaminia.

That leaves Dosti's co-defendant, Eslaminia's son, Reza, as the only remaining player in the drawn-out case, which inspired an Emmy-winning miniseries and cost San Mateo County taxpayers more than $1.3 million.

Dosti and Eslaminia already were convicted once in 1988 for the murder of the elder Eslaminia. Prosecutors had alleged that the Iranian refugee was murdered in a botched kidnap-for-ransom plan by a network of wealthy young Southern California scions who called themselves the Bombay Boys Club -- later redubbed the Billionaire Boys Club in tabloid coverage.

Prosecutors had argued that the scheme was crafted to satisfy the mounting debts of Joe Hunt, the group's charismatic leader. The plan, investigators testified, was to kidnap the elder Eslaminia and torture him into handing over some of the $30 million he claimed -- falsely, as it turned out -- to have spirited out of Iran in the late 1970s.

Eslaminia died in a steamer trunk that was used to transport him from his Belmont apartment to the "safe house" where he was to be held, prosecutors said. Investigators said the kidnappers had poked holes in the trunk to allow their victim to breathe, then plugged them when his moans became noisy.

Simple as the case must have seemed to investigators, proving it in court quickly became extremely complex, despite the cooperation of Dean Karny, club member, kidnapper and close friend of Hunt's who testified against his friends and entered the Witness Protection Program.

The charismatic Hunt, acting as his own attorney, mesmerized a 1992 jury. The panel's 8-to-4 vote resulted in a hung jury. Prosecutors elected to drop the charges, hoping that Hunt's life sentence in a separate murder of a Los Angeles con man would stick -- as it so far has.

Reza Eslaminia and Dosti were sentenced in 1988 to life in prison without possibility of parole in the kidnap-murder case, but those cases were reversed in 1998 after it was learned that the jury had heard a tape recording of a statement from Eslaminia's brother, Ari, who had never been called as a witness.

In recent months, the once-dramatic case has been shrouded in secrecy, as lawyers for both sides shuffled motions under a gag order that still stands.

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office prosecuted the case, declined to comment yesterday, citing the gag order. Eslaminia's attorney, Jeff Boyarsky, did not return phone calls requesting comment. Dosti's attorney, Harold Rosenthal, also declined to comment for the record but said in court that he was happy with the decision.

One person who would comment was Leslie Abramson, the quick-spoken Los Angeles attorney who represented Erik Menendez in his patricide case and -- for a time represented -- Reza Eslaminia.

"I'm glad the kid's free. Nice kid. I hope he's not turning as a witness against Reza, who is an equally nice kid," she said. "The fact that they offered manslaughter for what was a capital murder case tells you something. . . . They never had a very strong case against these individuals."

Eslaminia will return to court on October 4.


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