Smith & Wesson chief was an armed robber

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The Independent US

James Joseph Minder seemed the perfect chairman for Smith & Wesson - a respected member of the business community in Phoenix who had previously set up and run his own company to help disadvantaged youths.

Alas, there was one problem. Mr Minder, 74, had spent more than a decade in prison for a string of armed robberies.

And yesterday, the management consultant resigned from the legendary handgun manufacturer, two weeks after an Arizona newspaper revealed his misspent youth in the 1950s and 1960s. At first, Smith & Wesson's astonished board unanimously rejected his offer to step down as his criminal past became public.

Asked by The Arizona Republic newspaper why he hadn't told directors when he joined the board in 2001, Mr Minder replied: "Nobody asked. They didn't ask me the question, so I guess I never answered it. The only thing that would have disqualified me was if I had committed securities fraud in the last 20 years, and I hadn't." But yesterday the chairman bowed to the inevitable, and quit. "I felt it was the best thing to do for the company, given the circumstances," he said.

Those circumstances include 15 years spent in prison in Michigan, starting with four years served between 1951 and 1955 for robbing a store when he was a journalism student at university.

After being released on parole, he went on a second crime spree during which, according to The Detroit News of the day, his weapon of choice was a sawn-off shotgun.

After leaving prison, Mr Minder and his wife founded, in 1976, Spectrum Human Services, a non-profit group to help delinquent boys in Michigan.

He then retired to Phoenix, where he joined the board of a local company which bought Smith & Wesson in 2001 from Britain's Tomkins group.

Smith & Wesson was founded 150 years ago. It produces the celebrated .357 Magnum, and the .38 Special, the only handgun in the world, the company claims, which has been in continuous production since its introduction in 1899.