The Tip of the Iceberg

By Thomas Hauser
On Tuesday, January 9th, a dozen FBI agents raided the offices of Top Rank, Bob Arum's promotional company, in Las Vegas. The raid was conducted pursuant to a sealed search warrant. The agents seized computers, boxing contracts, medical records, and financial documents.

Jim Stern, a spokesman for the FBI, confirmed that the raid was carried out as part of a two-year investigation conducted in conjunction with the New York City Police Department.

The key man in the investigation was a New York police detective who posed as a fringe mobster trying to sell stolen goods in Las Vegas. "Big Frankie" teamed with an FBI agent who served as his driver. Over time, he was embraced by various members of the Las Vegas fight community and brought into their confidence.

As the investigation progressed, telephones were tapped pursuant to search warrants. Suspects "flipped" and wore wires. It's amazing that the operation was kept under wraps for as long as it was.

Forget about reports that Oscar De La Hoya versus Shane Mosley was fixed. The De La Hoya fight that has aroused the most suspicion was Oscar against Yory Boy Campas on May 3, 2003. Campas lasted just long enough to beat the "over-under" line.

Rumors are also swirling with regard to the following:

(1) Allegations that employees of Top Rank fixed fights by enticing fighters to take dives. The 2001 rematch between Jorge Paez and Verdell Smith and the 2002 bout between Joey Torres and Perry Williams are high on the list.

(2) The illegal transportation of Mexican fighters into the United States; tax fraud with regard to their purses; and skimming re same.

(3) The submission of fraudulent medical documents.

(4) The corruption of ring judges.

The Top Rank personnel whose names have been most commonly bandied about during the past week are Bob Arum, Todd duBoef (Arum's son-in-law), Bruce Trampler, Sean Gibbons, Pete Susens, and Cameron Dunkin. Others outside of Top Rank such as Robert Mittleman have also been prominently mentioned.

The investigation might also involve Top Rank's dealings with Telefutura and ESPN. That, in turn, could spiral into a major investigation of Telefutura's entire boxing program and ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. If the FBI is looking at fixed fights, it might check out Tye Fields versus Sherman Williams. The world sanctioning organizations could come in for renewed scrutiny, as might the involvement of Top Rank personnel in the death of Bradley Rone.

If, as has been reported, the telephones at Top Rank were tapped for two years . . . Wow ! Who knows what was said in conversations with executives of television networks, casinos, and state athletic commissions?

Top Rank issued a statement on Friday, January 9th, that declared, "Upon Mr. Arum's return to Las Vegas, he stated that Top Rank has done nothing wrong. Top Rank does not know the scope of the government's investigation. Top Rank is lawfully cooperating with that investigation. Top Rank will not comment on or respond to the rumors, speculations, and unverified allegations appearing in the media. Top Rank will continue to focus on its business of promoting its boxers and fights and appreciates all the support it has received from the boxing industry."

Meanwhile, Joe Hawk of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (which has been supportive of Arum over the years) wrote this week, "There is deliciously sweet irony in seeing a whiney boxing promoter, who just four months earlier threw accusatory stones at regulators in his home state, suddenly having his glass house searched and stripped by FBI agents."

If a small portion of the rumors presently circulating are proven true, the fate of Top Rank could make The Titanic look like a successful ocean voyage.

But Top Rank is a case study; that's all. Whatever its employees have done, they aren't the only ones.

It has been said that this week's developments are bad for boxing; that they will deter potential corporate sponsors and constitute another black eye for the sport.

But black eyes are the least of boxing's problems. The industry suffers from a pervasive cancer that requires chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

It's not enough to just cut off a tentacle. Now is the time to go for the whole octopus. That means it's crucial for someone who knows all aspects of the sport and business of boxing to read the transcripts of wiretap evidence on behalf of the government. And that someone should be a person who is unafraid to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, one biproduct of this week's revelations might be to breathe new life into the proposed federal boxing commission. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has been a major stumbling block to passage of the legislation. But it's unlikely that Mr. Reid wants to be known at the moment as "the senator from Top Rank." Also, the scandal emphasizes the need for a federal commission by demonstrating that too many state athletic commissions acquiesce in what they know to be improper conduct.

Stay tuned. What we're watching now isn't "the worst thing that could happen to boxing." It might be the best.

Award winning author Thomas Hauser can be reached at
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