The moment the telephone rang on that January afternoon in 1983, I was sitting at my desk in the New York office of the FBI, poring over a pile of intelligence reports linking Don King, the boxing promoter, to some of the most powerful organized-crime figures on the East Coast.
I had been awaiting the call for hours—in fact for several months, or ever since Michael Franzese, a capo in the Colombo crime family, had begun promising one of our undercover FBI agents that he would arrange a meeting between the agent and King for the purpose of setting up a copromotion of a fight. The agent, who was using the name Victor Quintana, was posing as a high-rolling Latin American drug dealer seeking to launder money. To establish his cover, the FBI had rented him a posh apartment on Manhattan's West Side and given him a company Rolls-Royce to tool around town in. Quintana had infiltrated Franzese's corner of the underworld and earned the mobster's trust. Now, finally, on Jan. 12, 1983, it appeared that all of the time and money the FBI had invested in this sting were paying off: Franzese and the controversial New York City civil rights activist the Reverend Al Sharpton were escorting Quintana and an FBI cooperating witness to the Manhattan offices of Don King Productions to introduce him to King. Sharpton, a pal of King's and an associate of Franzese's, had been enlisted by Franzese as a go-between for the meeting, though there is no evidence that Sharpton knew that Quintana hoped to launder illicitly obtained money.
Franzese, after weeks of delaying the meeting because he said he had to clear it first with "some of my cousins," was leading the FBI into boxing's interior (box, page 80). That it took some high-level mob maneuvering to arrange the meeting between King and Quintana certainly came as no surprise to me. For the 30 months before that, since the summer of 1980, I had been the case agent in charge of the FBI's investigation into corruption in boxing—an operation I had code-named Crown Royal. From the outset of Crown Royal, I had assumed that organized crime still had an active hand in the fight game, as it had had for decades. As for the name Crown Royal, I thought of it one night when I was driving home. I saw a billboard advertising Crown Royal whiskey, and I thought that would be a good name for the operation. It was as simple as that.
Two things I knew for sure: One, the underworld was filled with people like the drug dealer whose role Quintana was playing. These people were looking to launder illicit cash—to run their gains from gambling, thievery and the like through the spin cycle of some legitimate enterprise so they could pull them out later, clean and fresh, and declare the money as earned income. And two, boxing, of all the sports, was perhaps the most accommodating laundromat, what with its international subculture of unsavory characters who play by their own rules and its multimillion-dollar promotions ever in need of some major financing.
November 4, 1991
As I sat at my desk through the final hours that day, going through those intelligence reports, I believed that King was involved with the wiseguys.
So now here I am in the autumn of 1991, almost a decade later, sitting at a different desk in a different office, at One Park Avenue in Manhattan, where I serve—having been appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo in January 1986—as the first New York State Inspector General. In that capacity I investigate corruption in state government. But I still have vivid recollections of the sordid side of boxing that I came to know through Crown Royal. I also have an overpowering sense of dèjà vu every time I pick up a newspaper and read about King. Lately he has been much in the news, of course, as Mike Tyson's promoter and as a key figure behind Tyson's possibly doomed title fight—postponed from Nov. 8 because of a Tyson rib injury—with Evander Holyfield, the world heavyweight champion.
King is not the only survivor of Crown Royal. Former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott, at the time New Jersey's boxing commissioner, and Bob Lee, then Walcott's deputy and now the president of the International Boxing Federation, were both caught in conversations taped by the FBI accepting money to approve a New Jersey promoter's license. We also had tape recordings of Larry Holmes, then the heavyweight champion, and Saoul Mamby, then the World Boxing Council junior welterweight champion, both King fighters, indicating that they may have perjured themselves before a grand jury that was considering evidence arising out of the Crown Royal investigation.
We also were told that the discredited 1977 United States Boxing Championship (USBC), promoted by King and underwritten by ABC-TV Sports, had been even more corrupt than we had imagined. Tom Lawrence, the manager of Anthony House, a welterweight out of Winston-Salem, N.C., told us, in front of a hidden closed-circuit television camera, that House had taken a dive in his loss by knockout to Johnny Gant in Annapolis, Md., in February.
In recounting these and other matters, I am relying on entries about Crown Royal in my personal diary, as well as on my recollections of tape recordings, FBI reports, interviews with scores of boxing figures and debriefings of fellow law-enforcement officers and confidential informants whom I considered reliable. I can almost hear King, after reading this story, taking to the stump and delivering a harangue about how I have a vendetta against him because of Crown Royal and about how I'm rehashing old stuff and about how I'm out to get him now because I failed then. My answer is that my beef wasn't with King but with a derelict system that was being exploited by him and others. Although no criminal activity on King's part was proved, evidence linking him to organized-crime figures kept popping up. And I am coming forward now not to put his feet to the fire in any vendetta, but rather to reexamine a venal process that permitted him and others to operate without the rules and moral constraints against underworld associations that govern other professional sports.
I know it has been said many times before, but the time has come for meaningful change. Boxing, administered as it is by frequently neglectful state commissions and sanctioning bodies that are no more than a macabre joke, is in the same state of chaos as it was 10 years ago. I think it is time to create a National Boxing Commission, a governing body that would be appointed by the President to regulate the sport in a cohesive manner. And it is time for Congress to hold hearings—like those held by a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1960—to investigate organized crime's involvement in boxing.
King's associations with mobsters at the time of the Crown Royal investigation were consistent with his early history in Cleveland, his hometown. I contacted the FBI office there, and it sent me a report that said King had been involved in the numbers operations, kicking back part of his profits to organized-crime figure Tony Panzarella as well as to a street tough named Alex (Shondor) Birns. It was a violent world King lived in. In 1967 he was convicted of manslaughter and served four years in the Marion (Ohio) Correctional Institution. Birns, with whom King had clashed during his days in Cleveland, died in a car bombing in 1975, the year after King promoted the heavyweight championship fight in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
As the Crown Royal investigation grew, some of King's underworld contacts were sensing the squeeze and leaping for cover. One day, as Quintana pressed Franzese to set up the meeting with King that he hoped would lead to a fight promotion, Franzese warned him: "We have to be very careful with King. A lot of people in Cleveland are telling me that the heat he's under from the feds is enormous. Don't get too close to him, Victor. You should keep that in mind in dealing with King. You don't want to get jammed up with the feds." I had to laugh when Quintana told me that. Here was a mobster, sotto voce, unwittingly warning a fed about the feds.
As King's history with the mob was becoming more apparent, my questions were, Whom was he involved with now? How deep did that involvement go? The FBI background reports on him, like the needle on an erratic compass, had been pointing everywhere. Moreover, if we could infiltrate King's operation, through a joint promotion with Quintana, we might learn the extent of King's association with the mob. And was King on the up-and-up in his dealings with fighters and managers? There was plenty of evidence suggesting that the answer was no. We wanted to find out for sure.
On Jan. 21, 1981, the FBI received six tape recordings subpoenaed from Richie Giachetti, a longtime associate of King's who also emerged from the Cleveland streets into the fight game. At the time, Giachetti was working as the trainer of Holmes, the most prominent fighter in King's stable, while fronting for King as Holmes's manager as well. Giachetti had a gripe against King, who in slicing the pie was serving Giachetti a smaller piece than he felt he had coming, and Giachetti also was wary of Holmes, because he thought Holmes might be talking about him to King behind his back. So, looking for something to use against King and Holmes, if he ever needed it, Giachetti had surreptitiously tape-recorded several telephone conversations he had had with both men. In one King-Giachetti conversation, King described a sit-down meeting he recently had had with a member of the mob sent by someone—we believed it was a rival matchmaker—to put the arm on him.
King said to Giachetti: "They put the mob on me! What he [the rival promoter] had hoped was that I would start mouthing off and yelling at this guy, but I was too smart. I knew if I did that, I would end up in the——ing lake! So I told this guy who I was with, and he said, 'Oh, O.K., I understand.' "
On June 3, 1981, when boxing promoter Harold Smith was facing some sticky legal problems involving check forgery, he testified before the Crown Royal grand jury. Smith was looking for all the help he could get from law enforcement officials, and he volunteered to help me with Crown Royal. Smith—who eventually served five years in jail for embezzling more than $21 million from the Wells Fargo bank in California—was in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan before his grand jury appearance when I came to visit him.
"Who you want me to call?" Smith asked.
"Richie Giachetti," I said.
"Give me the phone," said Smith. I hooked it up to a tape recorder.
"What's happening, Richie?" Smith asked Giachetti.
"That——ing King!" said Giachetti. "He sent a hit man to Las Vegas to tell me to lay off him.... You know I got tapes of King that I made."
So that's how I learned how King had decided to deal with Giachetti, who now, believe it or not, is back with King and serving as Tyson's trainer. I guess I shouldn't really be surprised.
To say the least, King seemed to keep some dubious company. A few weeks earlier, on May 19, 1981, an informant called to tell me that he had found out from King that the promoter was planning to travel to Philadelphia two days later to meet with Frank (Frankie Flowers) D'Alfonso, an associate in the Philadelphia organized-crime family, who in 1985 would be gunned down on a Philadelphia street. We knew that D'Alfonso had been involved in at least one King promotion—he had a stake in the closed-circuit TV rights for Philadelphia for the Ali-Holmes fight in '80.
Another informant reported that on the day before their meeting, D'Alfonso warned King away from Philadelphia; D'Alfonso feared that he himself was under surveillance—as indeed he was. D'Alfonso said he was worried because of the numerous "fed cars" around his house.
According to a Sept. 20, 1982, informant's report, King had met six days earlier with the notorious John Gotti, then a capo in the Gambino crime family—he later became the head of the family—at Patrissy's, a restaurant in Manhattan's Little Italy. "Gotti and King dined together," the informant said.
Then on Oct. 2, 1982, the same informant reported he had heard that King had met with a powerful capo in the Genovese crime family, Matthew (Matty the Horse) Ianniello, at Abe's Steak House in Manhattan.
This informant also stated that King and Gotti had another meeting in December at Abe's Steak House. Although the subject of their discussion was unknown, King and Gotti became engaged in what appeared to be a "heated conversation."
I thought that D'Alfonso's warning King away because of the feds being all over the place was really funny at the time. It seemed to me that it was the hoods who were all over the place. They all saw Quintana as a mark—this rich drug dealer racing around the Big Apple in his Rolls-Royce, with $3 million in hot cash burning a hole in his designer jeans. That's how much Quintana was telling the mobsters that he had, and they figured that the way to get at it was to promise him the promoter. For high rollers like Quintana, that's what the mob does: It arranges meetings, opens doors and shows the way.
And Quintana, of course, was receptive. Just as the Giachetti tapes had revealed King's having invoked one hoodlum to ward off another, so Quintana used King's name to work his way into the underworld. At various times, members of three New York and New Jersey crime families offered to set up the meeting: Franzese for the Colombos, a capo and a soldier for the DeCavalcantes and a soldier for the Genoveses. I remember one day thinking: King is not named Don for nothing.
If what we had found so far was any clue at all, boxing was an unholy mess. Not surprisingly, the fighters themselves were at the low end of the sport's food chain. Even Holmes was being cut up like a turnip. King was supposed to be making his money off Holmes by promoting his fights and earning whatever was left after the boxers and expenses had been paid, not by managing Holmes and taking a cut of his purses. It is to prevent this sort of double-dipping, which creates a clear-cut conflict of interest, that most state commissions bar a promoter from also being a manager. But Giachetti had told us that King was taking a 25% cut of all Holmes's purses. Giachetti and Holmes's lawyer in Easton, Pa., Charles Spaziani, were each getting 12.5%. In sum, they were in for half of Holmes's purses.
The most poignant moment of the four years I worked on the investigation came early in 1981 when another FBI agent and I went to Holmes's house in Easton. We were there to serve Holmes with a grand jury subpoena, and when he came to the door, dressed in a robe, and I introduced myself, he smiled and said, "Oh, you're the guy who wants to put Don King in jail."
"That's not exactly true, Larry," I protested, and he waved me inside. We ended up sitting next to his indoor pool, which is shaped like a boxing glove, and talking about the fight game and his career. He reminisced about the sensational 15th round of the fight in 1978 in which he won the heavyweight title from Ken Norton. He was in a jovial mood. At one point, he grabbed the telephone and called Spaziani, saying, "Spaz, I got the FBI here, and they have subpoenaed my ass. And they may have a subpoena for you, too, so you better go hide."
Then, as if a shadow had fallen between us, he grew somber. I had just asked him to help me with the investigation. His wife, Diane, looked nervously toward him, and he glanced over at her. He got tears in his eyes and shook his head. "King's got a lot of bad friends," Holmes said. "I've got to make a living. I have a family. I'm scared for my family. I've got to be careful. He can hurt me."
I was speechless sitting there watching him, listening to his voice trail off. Here was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, the toughest guy on the planet, suddenly looking as sad and frightened as any man I'd ever known.
That was in the investigation's earliest stages. Now, fast forward to Jan. 12, 1983, when Crown Royal finally made it to King's doorstep. The telephone rang.
"Joe, Victor here," said Quintana. "It happened. We had the meeting. A brief one. King's office. We have an agreement to do a copromotion."
I felt a rush. "Did King say anything about who would be involved?" I asked.
"We never got into that," said Quintana. "All he did was agree to it. Michael went in to see him first. Then he came out and took us in. Sharpton was there. Michael introduced us."
"What did King say?"
"We shook hands and he said, 'You must be serious about doing a promotion or you wouldn't be coming here with Michael. I'll do a promotion with you.' Then he said something about a National Youth Movement [Sharpton's organization, which sought to help young people]: 'It's a promotion where the kiddies will benefit. I want to help the kiddies. Anything to help the kiddies.' "
I arranged to meet Quintana that afternoon to pick up the tape recording of the meeting—Victor had been "wired" during the meeting—and I literally bolted from my desk to the office of my supervisor, John Walzer. "This is great, Joe," he said. "This is just what we wanted."
I was elated. We were in. At last the FBI had infiltrated boxing at its highest levels. We had all seen how King worked the outside, sticking and moving with the press, quoting everyone from Socrates to Shakespeare to Martin Luther King, entertaining audiences with mixed metaphors and outrageous malaprops and his wild hairdo. Soon, for the first time, we hoped to see how King worked the body, the inside: where the money came from and where it went, and who came in the door and who went out.
Giachetti had already told us how King used "double contracts," that he signed fighters to two distinct deals—one for show and one for dough. Did he, as we had been told, routinely cut fighters' purses, contracting before a fight to pay them one amount only to pay them less after it? Did he, though supposedly only a promoter, take a bite of his fighters' paychecks, as he allegedly did with Holmes?
At no point had the investigation appeared more promising. We were ready to commit millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to a boxing promotion. I wasn't really afraid of losing money on the deal. We had the mob looking out for us. Franzese kept assuring Quintana that his investment would be safe. In one conversation at the Atrium, a private club in Manhattan where Franzese often held court, he told Victor, "Don't worry about King. You'll get every nickel you're supposed to get as long as I am with you."
It was as if I had been training months for a 15-round championship fight and had finally made it into the ring. I certainly felt I had paid my dues, and they had been considerable, beginning with those anonymous calls to my office threatening me if I did not drop the case: "It might be in your best interest to forget about this——-!" an ominous voice intoned one day. Then, click. Taking the threats seriously, my office even put me under surveillance. When I suffered an attack of Bell's palsy in February 1981—the doctors told me that it was the result of the stress of the 15-hour workdays I was putting in—I feared my role in Crown Royal was over. As it turned out, my 15 days of convalescence gave me the chance to retool my case strategy and launch the sting that would bring us to King's office.
My interest in boxing began not in the summer of 1980 but on the brisk, windy evening of Sept. 21, 1955, when my late grandfather, Joseph Ciaccio, took me on a Queens-to-Bronx subway to Yankee Stadium to see Rocky Marciano, the undefeated heavyweight champion, fight Archie Moore. My grandfather spoke reverentially of Marciano, whose family had emigrated to the U.S. from the same Italian town, Chieti, as my grandfather's family had. I was only six when Marciano Knocked Moore out, but the fight remains among the most vivid of my childhood memories, and my experiences of that night and my grandfather's passion for boxing launched me on a lifelong love affair with the sport.
I never wanted to be a fighter. Ever since I was a kid, all I ever wanted to be was an FBI agent. So after I graduated from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta in 1975,1 took an appointment with the Bureau. During the next several years, I spent seven months undercover at Kennedy Airport in New York, on a case that eventually led to convictions of several organized-crime associates; I was one of many agents who worked on the Anthony Scotto case, at the end of which Scotto, the president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1814 in New York, was convicted of racketeering; and, most significant, I was for 2½ years the co-case agent with John Pritchard in the Bureau's investigation of U.S. Congressman John Murphy (D., N.Y.), which culminated in his conviction for bribery and criminal conspiracy as a result of the Abscam sting operation. In 1984 I was transferred to New Haven, Conn., and became the FBI's organized-crime coordinator for the state. I left the Bureau the next year to join the Cuomo administration, but I have nothing except fond memories of my years in the FBI and consider it a privilege to have served.
I had read all about the USBC, and when my involvement with Abscam ended in 1980 and I was casting about for something to sink my teeth into, various associates in the Bureau encouraged me to look into boxing. I became intrigued with the idea, and when I proposed it to my supervisors, telling them that the sport was ripe for a federal inquiry, they agreed.
In July 1980, Pritchard and I went to Catskill, N.Y., to talk to one of the most respected figures in boxing, Cus D'Amato, who had been former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson's manager and trainer and who at the time was nurturing and training a 14-year-old street tough from Brooklyn named Mike Tyson. We sat out in D'Amato's yard, at a picnic table, and for four hours he presided like a professor of boxing history, offering a lecture on the sport's many ills. By then I had read ABC-TV's in-house report detailing the corruption of the USBC, and D'Amato reinforced all that I had learned.
He hammered at both King and rival promoter Bob Arum for using option contracts to tie up fighters and control the sport. An option contract works this way: Say I'm a promoter who controls the heavyweight champion, and you, as a heavyweight, come to me and say, "I want to fight for the title." I say, "Fine, but before I let you fight my champion, you have to sign a contract giving me the option to promote your next three fights if, in fact, you happen to win." Not only that, but I dictate whom you fight and how much you fight for. And if you don't like it, you can take a hike.
"You know what that is?" D'Amato told me. "It's legalized extortion."
D'Amato was right. Just because option contracts are legal doesn't make them right. They are how fighters get tied up with one promoter and are forced to toe his line.
Over the next several months, I interviewed numerous people in the fight business. Giachetti, for one, was a sight and a sound. He had done considerable street-fighting in his day, and his face showed it. He had an unforgettable nasal twang and darting, suspicious eyes. Dominic Amorosa, an assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case, and I had lunch with him on Aug. 17, 1980. He was voluble and resentful; he said he felt cheated by King and also that he was tired of being shortchanged. Giachetti told us that Holmes wound up with only 50% of his purses and that King pocketed 25% that he wasn't entitled to. Promoters, Giachetti said, aren't entitled to manager's shares. As Holmes's manager, Giachetti should have been getting a third of the fighter's purses rather than the 12½% he was receiving.
Giachetti said that King was still involved with the wiseguys. "He still has organized-crime ties and still in Cleveland," Giachetti said. He explained how King used double contracts, and then he dropped the bombshell, telling us about the tapes he had made in which King said things that were, according to Giachetti, "criminal in nature." It was an assertion that never panned out.
Giachetti said he would give us the tapes, but not until after Holmes had fought Ali that fall; he did not want to anger King now because he was expecting a $500,000 payday. At the end, he added, "I want you to subpoena me, but I want immunity," he said. "And I want it to look like I was made to do it."
With his tapes, his anger and his long history inside King's operation, Giachetti was critical to our investigation. I was sure he knew as much about King as anyone, and I had discussed the possibility of getting immunity for him. Amorosa had agreed to grant it. Then Amorosa left the case. He was replaced by Roanne Mann, and the next thing I know, her boss, John Martin, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, went back on the agreement. I pleaded with them. Martin told me that he didn't think it was in the interest of justice to grant immunity to Giachetti because, he said, "this guy may have committed crimes himself."
"That's why he wants immunity," I argued. "That's the whole point! We've got a lot of witnesses who aren't choirboys. Giachetti is one of the people who said that King was taking money from Larry Holmes. He is in a position where he only got paid $350,000 out of the $500,000 he was supposed to get for the Ali-Holmes fight. He says King kept the other part, and he's sore about it. He's the one witness that we need."
It was no use. Although we still were able to subpoena his tapes, late in 1980 we lost Giachetti. I felt betrayed. After we lost a few other witnesses that winter, and when Holmes shook his head and said he couldn't help, I felt the investigation was falling apart. It was no wonder I woke up one morning in February 1981 thinking I had had a stroke. I had a severe pain behind my left ear. I went into the bathroom and was starting to brush my teeth when I looked in the mirror and saw that my face was swollen and my left eye was closed. I couldn't open it. As I brushed my teeth, the suds from my mouth started dribbling down the left side of my chin.
"It's Bell's palsy," the doctor said. When I told him the hours I'd been working and the stress I'd been feeling, he blamed the palsy at least in part on that and told me I would have to take three months off. I laughed at him and took 15 days on my couch at home, watching fights on ESPN and trying to figure out how to refocus Crown Royal. It was a gloomy two weeks brightened only once, by a telephone call. I thought my father was kidding when he answered the phone and told me it was Muhammad Ali. I had never admired a fighter more. Ali and King had fallen out, and I had met Ali that winter.
"Joe, this is Muhammad," he said. "How are you feelin'?"
"O.K.," I said.
"It didn't affect your brain, did it?" he asked.
The right side of my face smiled. "It only attacked the left side of my face," I said.
"You've got to keep punchin'," he said. "You're an important guy."
I thanked him. And then, unable to resist the chance, as someone who had grown up in a rabid Marciano household, I said, "Do me a favor, Muhammad. Please tell my father that you could have beaten Rocky Marciano."
"That goes without saying!" he said, and hung up the phone.
The call made my first week of convalescence. Something else made my second. I knew where we should go in the investigation—most of the signs were pointing straight at King—but how were we to get there? And then one afternoon it dawned on me. I sat up like a bolt: The Abscam sting had used closed-circuit TV and undercover agents to ferret out corruption in Congress, and the same sort of scheme was the only way to get inside boxing. And I had just the guy to get us started. That winter I had met a smooth-talking hipster who had been around the fight game for years. He had been convicted of smuggling huge quantities of drugs into the U.S. I can't identify this man by his real name because his life would be endangered if I did so. At the time, he was awaiting sentencing, and it took five weeks of paper-shuffling to bring him to New York.
This man—let's call him Bobby—knew practically everyone: Giachetti, King and innumerable fighters. He was bright, well-spoken and enthusiastic, and he knew that if he performed well as a cooperating witness and behaved himself, I would vouch for him come sentencing time. His first test came on April 8, 1981, when he and I (I was undercover) met with the two USBC figures, Lawrence and his fighter, House. Bobby knew them both and had invited them to New York from North Carolina, telling them that he was a promoter, that I was his money man and that to make our fighters look good, we needed sweet scientists who knew how to go into the water. We set up a closed-circuit TV system in a room in the Halloran House Hotel on Manhattan's East Side, and Bobby played before the camera like some daytime soap opera star.
It was here that Lawrence admitted that House had thrown his USBC fight against Gant—although in the eyes of fight experts, House was so clearly overmatched that no fix would have been necessary. It was also here that Lawrence said that he could provide other fighters to take dives. In addition, he said that he had protected King and others involved in the tournament by lying to the FBI about corruption in the USBC. At one point, Lawrence said that House had taken a dive in his Jan. 28, 1978, fight against Thomas Hearns. When I started to laugh, House looked at me indignantly and said, "What's so funny?" I said, "You had to take a dive against Thomas Hearns? Are you crazy?" House, very seriously, explained, "It wasn't whether or not I could beat Hearns—I was there to lose."
Bobby wasn't the only one working for us that spring. There was also Harold Smith. Before appearing in front of the Crown Royal grand jury, Smith had made his taped phone call to Giachetti, and later Smith met Giachetti in a room at the Sheraton, where I had hidden a tape recorder. Smith was brilliant. He sat Giachetti right next to the recording device and pumped Giachetti like a farmer at the well. When the subject came up of why Giachetti was in New York, my heart jumped when he said, "I had to meet with the Mafia people to discuss how much King got from the Ali-Holmes fight [in which Holmes beat Ali in Las Vegas on Oct. 2, 1980]."
It was Bobby, though, who was our workhorse through 1981 and early '82. On July 20, Mamby gave grand jury testimony that King had received none of Mamby's purses and had nothing to do with picking his opponents. A day later, Bobby recorded a conversation with Mamby in which Mamby stated that the exact opposite was true. Mamby had apparently perjured himself.
Holmes had testified to the same grand jury in March concerning an allegation that he had had to kick back $5,000 to WBC president and King ally Josè Sulaimàn to protect his title. Holmes denied having made such a payment and grew visibly agitated when the grand jury prosecutor, Amorosa, first played for him a Giachetti tape on which Holmes had admitted just that, and then showed him his canceled $5,000 check made out to Sulaimàn. Some two years later, in a recorded conversation in Holmes's offices in Easton, Holmes told Quintana, who was wired, and Sharpton, who had become an FBI informant, "I even perjured myself in the grand jury to protect Don King."
On Aug. 17, 1981, Bobby, wearing a wire, met with Barry Burnstein, a supplier of video equipment for closed-circuit fights, and asked Burnstein how to go about getting a promoter's license in New Jersey. Burnstein's voice dropped almost to a whisper: "Look, [Bobby], I don't want to talk out of school, or anything like that, but if you're going to do business down in Jersey, you're going to have to pay."
"What do you mean, I'm going to have to pay?" he asked.
"You've got to pay Bob Lee, the bagman for Walcott, to get a license."
I was stunned listening to that tape. Walcott was one of boxing's icons, a fighter so polished and crafty that opponents ducked him and he never got a chance to fight for the title until he was seemingly too old. That he actually won the heavyweight championship at age 37, when he knocked out Ezzard Charles in seven, was a case of justice served in a sport too often unjust. But I had no choice. I told Bobby to arrange to get a New Jersey promoter's license. Bobby contacted one of his old pals, Chet Cummings, a boxing public relations man around Atlantic City. For a $1,000 fee, Cummings agreed to introduce Bobby to Lee. On Dec. 19, 1981, a wired Bobby met Lee and Cummings in Atlantic City. Bobby gave Lee $3,000 in cash and said, "I want to give you this $3,000 for all the help in getting me a promoter's license in New Jersey." Lee took the money and said, "All of the $3,000 is going to Joe Walcott."
The following summer, Quintana, posing as Bobby's money man, approached Walcott at ringside at the Alex Ramos-Ted Sanders fight in Atlantic City. A wired Quintana said, very distinctly, "Did you get the money all right? Are we going to get our license?" Walcott said "Yes."
A day later, Quintana and a female undercover agent added a sweetener when they met Walcott and Lee at the commission offices in Trenton. Quintana thanked Walcott for his help and handed him an envelope containing $1,000 in $100 bills. "This is for you, Joe," said Quintana.
"Thank you," said Joe. "Thank you very much."
Quintana then handed a similar gift to Lee. "You don't have to do that," Lee said. He took the envelope, opened a desk drawer, slipped it inside and closed the drawer. As things turned out, we never needed the license, and we didn't pursue the matter further.
Bobby's 1981 dealings with Cummings in New Jersey led us to larger and far more powerful targets than an aging former world champion and Lee. Cummings introduced Bobby to Sonny Franzese, Michael's father, who at one time was an underboss in the Colombo crime family. Cummings told Bobby, "I want to introduce you to Sonny Fran-CHEE-zee [in fact, it's pronounced Fran-CEASE]. He is interested in having you promote some of his fighters, and I can arrange this for you."
It was through Cummings that Quintana met Sonny and, in time, Michael. Quintana performed spectacularly. He was the ideal undercover agent for this kind of sting. Tall, handsome, well-built and athletic, he looked like one of those Argentine polo players who chase women and horses from continent to continent. In fact, he was a black belt in karate who spoke fluent English and Spanish and studied acting in order to fit whatever undercover roles he had to play. He was, in all the years I served at the FBI, one of the finest undercover agents I knew. And he was absolutely fearless.
Michael, bright and youthful, took to Quintana immediately. Sonny accepted him, too, but with one warning. Quintana and Sonny were playing one day at a racquetball club on Long Island when Sonny told him that he didn't want drugs around his sons because drugs attracted too much police attention. Quintana assured Sonny that he need not worry. He said he wasn't there to deal drugs. The Bureau had not only set him and Bobby up in that West Side Manhattan high-rise, but it also rented them an office at 31st Street and Seventh Avenue across from Madison Square Garden and installed Quintana as the head of the business front for the sting, TKO Promotions. An unsuspecting Muhammad Ali was among many boxing people who attended the gala celebration launching the enterprise.
Quintana never wavered from what he wanted to do with his money. "We've opened up a promotional company," he told Michael early on. "We really want to meet Don King because that's where I'm going to make the most amount of money. I don't want to nickel and dime a little fight in a parking lot.... To clean my money, I have to have some major production where I can dump several million dollars in it and I can pull my several million dollars back out as legitimate earned income."
Franzese did his best, meanwhile, to steer Quintana away from King and into other ventures, including a Hollywood movie-making business, Western International Pictures, in which Franzese was a partner with Jerry Zimmerman, a California businessman. Michael never tried to conceal that King was not with the Colombos. "Don King is not with my family," he told Quintana. "He's with some cousins. I've got to call the cousins and get their approval before I can introduce you."
At one point, after several delays, Quintana told Michael, "If you can't do it, maybe I can find someone else to put this meeting together."
Michael flinched. "No, no, no," he said. "I can put it together. I told you. I have to go through protocol."
Protocol led Quintana to King through a dark-suited labyrinth. On Nov. 3, 1982, Franzese, Quintana, Bobby and Zimmerman drove from Manhattan to Gargiulo's restaurant on Coney Island, in Brooklyn, where they were led through the main dining room into a back room. To hear Quintana describe it, the scene was like something out of The Godfather. Bodyguards sat at one table and petitioners sat at another waiting until, one by one, the petitioners went to the main table, where Michael had sat down with capo Jimmy Rotondo and soldier Tom (Corky) Vastola, both of the DeCavalcante family. When Quintana was summoned to the main table, Vastola asked him, "How much money have you got? You got to do business with Don King, you've got to have the money. We don't want to go to the man and the man is like out of your league."
"Three million dollars. Cash. Right now," said Quintana.
"O.K.," said Vastola. "We'll put it together."
At last, in early January, Franzese called and told Quintana that the meeting with King was set. For the next three days, I studied strategy, then all at once it was over. Two months earlier Duk Koo Kim of South Korea had died as a result of injuries he had suffered in a fight with Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini in Las Vegas, and suddenly the FBI decided that it wanted no part of any boxing promotion. Walzer, my supervisor, broke the news to me. "The Bureau can't do it," he said. "They're worried about liability. What would happen if some fighter got killed and it came out that the FBI was involved in the promotion?"
I tried to argue. "We'll take every precaution," I said. "We'll take out insurance." He shook his head.
The decision had been made in Washington, and it was irrevocable. I understood the Bureau's position, but I slumped in my chair. After all of that work, the sting came to a crashing stop. And here's a bittersweet postscript for you: Two months later Quintana met Danny Pagano, a Genovese soldier, and when Pagano found out that Quintana had met King through Franzese, Pagano said, "What did you go to Michael for? King's with us."
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. King was eventually indicted for tax evasion, partly on evidence arising out of Crown Royal, but he was acquitted while a vice-president of his company, Constance Harper, was convicted on three counts and served four months in prison. I was told all along by the U.S. Attorney's office that Holmes and Mamby would be indicted for perjury, and Lee and Walcott for bribery, but they never were. No matter. I always saw Holmes and Mamby more as victims than targets, and you couldn't indict Lee if you didn't indict Walcott, an old man with diabetes who got screwed throughout most of his long, difficult life. It probably would have been impossible to find a New Jersey jury to convict Jersey Joe. He's an institution in that state, like Bruce Springsteen and the Boardwalk.
Shortly after the Bureau killed the copromotion, Quintana told Franzese that he was having second thoughts about King and that, you know, maybe the two of them—Quintana and Franzese—ought to go into the movie business together.
Unfortunately for Franzese, his movie-making career was short-circuited by a subsequent jail sentence. I won't tell you where Quintana is, except that he never fails to answer his beeper. As for Bobby, the poor guy did a fine job for us—I'm sure I could have gotten him a reduced sentence—but he ruined it when he saw the case ending and, figuring it was back to jail, skipped the country. He was later caught and did time.
More than 11 years have passed since I visited D'Amato, who died in 1985, and I often think about him and my work on Crown Royal, particularly when I see his prodigy Tyson sparring with a TV cameraman; or Tyson's trainer, Giachetti, standing next to him in the corner of some ring; or Tyson's promoter, King, haranguing the press, as he did recently in Indianapolis, where he defended Tyson, who had been indicted on rape and other charges, by shouting the name of Tyson's accuser, an 18-year-old college student who was a candidate for Miss Black America.
Some things, I guess, you can count on forever. About a year after I became New York State Inspector General, I found myself in the middle of yet another investigation of boxing. And would you believe who was involved? It was 1986, and Governor Cuomo asked me to look into a fight that year in Madison Square Garden between heavyweights Tim Witherspoon and James (Bonecrusher) Smith. What I discovered was shameful. First of all, neither boxer was licensed in New York at the time of the fight. Nor was the two fighters' manager, Carl King, Don's stepson. That's right: Carl King managed both fighters. As if that conflict of interest weren't egregious enough, the fight was promoted by Don King. So the stepfather negotiated with his stepson to decide what the fighters would be paid.
It is incidents such as these that make it necessary to have a national commission. The present four sanctioning bodies-the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO—are empowered by no one except themselves. Those bodies and the various state commissions should be replaced by a national commission that would rank the fighters, sanction fights, make rules, care for the safety and welfare of the participants and provide a health and pension plan for retired boxers. It also would establish specific qualifications for the licensing of promoters, managers, trainers and fighters and make sure that action is taken against those who violate the rules.
Option contracts should be outlawed. Promoters should be made to certify the exact amounts paid to fighters and managers. There should be an arbitration board before which aggrieved parties, particularly fighters, could appeal contractual disputes.
If these things were done, boxing would be the winner. Then maybe someday I would be more inclined to take my grandchildren to see a heavyweight title fight, as my grandfather took me. Because in its highest form, prizefighting can be an exhilarating sport, enriching not only the men who face each other in the ring but also those who come to see the fight for the love of battle and of its primitive art. It is a sport worth saving—from itself.
Responding to Spinelli
Don King declined to be interviewed. His attorney, Robert Hirth, wrote in a letter to SI that "Spinelli's animus toward Mr. King is longstanding and well known." Of Spinelli's charges that King associated with mob figures, Hirth said, "During the 1980s Mr. King was repeatedly and thoroughly investigated by the government, as well as by various private organizations. Despite these extensive investigations, no charge has ever been brought against Mr. King—or colorable evidence found—that he has ties to organized crime."
Hirth did not specifically address the allegation that King sent a hit man to Las Vegas to warn Richie Giachetti to lay off King. In an Aug. 8, 1981, New York Post story, King, in response to an inference drawn by that paper that Giachetti believed that King had put a contract out on Giachetti's life, said, "There is no reason for me to put a contract out on anybody.... It's absolute paranoia from a diabolical and sinister mind."
Richie Giachetti also declined to be interviewed. In a letter to SI, his attorney, Robert Ruggeri, in an apparent reference to Giachetti's having taped conversations with King and Larry Holmes, wrote that Giachetti was at one time "a very bitter man" because he had been fired by King and Holmes. "Any comment that may have been made by Mr. Giachetti during this period was said with every intention to strike back at the very heart of Don King...," said Ruggeri. "Giachetti at no time believed the allegations of a contract on his life, nor did he then or does he now believe there is any 'mob connection' between King and other individuals."
Jersey Joe Walcott, now 77 and ailing, denies that as New Jersey's boxing commissioner he accepted money to expedite the processing of a promoter's license for the man Spinelli calls Bobby. "Nobody ever gave me anything," Walcott says. "I wouldn't accept it. I can't believe this. Nobody's ever given me a thing. No, no, no." Of Spinelli's assertion that Walcott answered yes when a wired Victor Quintana asked him whether he had received a $3,000 payment, Walcott says, "He said that to me? Who? I can't believe this."
Bob Lee, the president of the International Boxing Federation, who was Walcott's deputy commissioner in New Jersey, denied that Bobby gave him $3,000 to pass on to Walcott. Lee says that he did receive a lesser sum from Bobby, but that this was a contribution to help finance Lee's unsuccessful 1982 campaign for the presidency of the World Boxing Association. "My recollection is that [Bobby] gave me $1,000 toward my campaign," Lee says. "He never gave me any money to give to Joe Walcott...."
Lee acknowledges receiving an envelope containing $1,000 from Quintana, but says that this, too, was a campaign gift: "Quintana came to the office, and he said, 'This is going to help you with your campaign.' And he left the envelope on my desk."
Josè Sulaimàn, the World Boxing Council president since 1975, denies that he received a $5,000 kickback from Holmes to protect Holmes's heavyweight title, a charge that, according to Spinelli, Holmes made on a Giachetti tape that was played before the Crown Royal grand jury. Sulaimàn speculates that if Holmes made such a payment, it was for the purpose of buying an ad in a WBC publication. Sulaimàn says, "He may have paid $5,000 to buy an ad in that magazine congratulating the WBC."
Larry Holmes says, "Everybody donates, makes donations to everybody's campaigns—to the office, the WBC, whatever. But I never made a payment of $5,000 to Josè Sulaimàn to protect my title. Whoever said this is absolutely wrong." Of the Giachetti tape on which he allegedly admitted such a payment, Holmes says, "If there was anything on the tape, it wasn't me. That's wrong." Holmes declined to discuss the meeting with a wired Quintana and the Reverend Al Sharpton at which, according to Spinelli, Holmes said he had perjured himself before the grand jury.
The Reverend Al Sharpton confirms that at Michael Franzese's request he helped arrange the 1983 meeting between them, Quintana, Bobby and King. Sharpton says he was aware that Franzese was a Colombo family member but assumed that the King meeting was strictly to set up a boxing promotion. Sharpton acknowledges that he became an FBI informant in the Crown Royal case but disputes Spinelli's assertion that he had already done so at the time he and Quintana met with Holmes in July 1983. "I never worked with [the FBI] until much later," Sharpton says. Sharpton also challenges Spinelli's contention that Holmes admitted to Sharpton and Quintana that he committed perjury before the grand jury. "I don't believe anybody in their right mind would believe [the FBI agents] were so benevolent...that they would let Larry Holmes go with a statement like that," Sharpton says.
Saoul Mamby, Anthony House and Chet Cummings could not be reached. Tom Lawrence and Barry Burnstein are dead.