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.