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Shadow Boxing
Joseph Spinelli
November 04, 1991
While probing the fight game for the FBI in the early 1980s, the author uncovered disquieting links between the mob and powerful promoter Don King. The vain quest to learn more took an undercover agent into a meeting in King's office
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November 04, 1991

Shadow Boxing

While probing the fight game for the FBI in the early 1980s, the author uncovered disquieting links between the mob and powerful promoter Don King. The vain quest to learn more took an undercover agent into a meeting in King's office

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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.

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