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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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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."

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