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"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'?"