It was insanity. Or was it? If one wanted to embezzle substantial sums, a good way would be to set up a company or companies with large and frequent cash inflows and outflows, so that big deposits and withdrawals wouldn't raise a red flag. Fight promotions are ideal for this purpose, because of the publicity given the millions of dollars involved.
Some government sources are speculating that Smith may have been an unwitting front for Lewis, who could manipulate funds from his post within the bank. But all the money funneled into the MAPS accounts came in the form of cash deposits, and it was Smith who made such a show of dealing in cash. He used to carry a flight bag filled with greenbacks and reportedly bragged that, if necessary, he could stuff three-quarters of a million dollars into the bag.
Though lavish in his spending, Smith, a soft-spoken man of average build, kept a very low profile. He was reluctant to be photographed, which, considering the present circumstances, seems to have been wise. At boxing matches he would either take a seat far from the ring or would stand in a corridor.
He was moving in a world he claimed to despise. "I hate boxing," Smith told Jack Fiske of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I happened to get into it and I'm stuck, but I won't be involved by the end of 1981." Because he distrusted those with whom he did business, Smith taped all of his telephone calls, and he videotaped all meetings in his office. The revelation of that idiosyncrasy may shake up some of those who did business at Smith's headquarters in Suite 208, 3231 Ocean Park Boulevard, Santa Monica.
The offices are tastefully and expensively decorated. The decor reflects Smith's personal dress, which is stylish but subdued and tends toward Western-cut suits. He was rarely seen without his cowboy hat and sunglasses. Sometimes he also wore cowboy boots. In public, no matter the scene, he preferred to remain at a distance from the goings-on.
Smith has expensive personal habits. He owns several large houses and two condominiums in Marina del Rey; he drives a $40,000 black customized El Dorado convertible and a Seville, and his wife has a Mercedes 450 SL; he purchased an $84,000 powerboat and leased a Learjet. Along with his wife and one Michael Blake, he has a racehorse named Johnlee n' Harold, which won the California Breeders' Stakes on Dec. 27,1980. At Christmas time he passed out envelopes each containing a $1,000 bill to friends and employees.
Lee Smith and their 4-year-old son, John, have also disappeared. At first it was believed that they had left Los Angeles with Smith when he disappeared on Jan. 21. But a source close to the family believes that they may be hiding out in L.A.
Among those hardest hit by the alleged bank sting were the young and promising boxers Smith had recruited from around the country to fight for the Muhammad Ali Boxing Club. Last Saturday, after news of the investigation began to leak out, they gathered at Ali's palatial Los Angeles home to eat chocolate ice cream and to wonder how they would get home.
Ali told them not to worry. "I'm going to give them my money," he said. "All of them are boxers who relied on Harold Smith to pay their rent. And now that he has gone they don't have any place to go."
Ali's sole association with MAPS was the use of his name. Only a few weeks ago, at the urging of friends, he had started his own investigation into Smith's company.