By Thomas Hauser
On November 13th, the New York State Assembly Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Sports, chaired by Joseph Morelle, held a public hearing as part of its investigation into the scandals that have plagued the New York State Athletic Commission. The first witness called was to have been Thomas Hauser, whose articles about the Commission were a significant factor in the recent resignation of Chairman Mel Southard and the housecleaning that is expected to follow. However, Hauser is on assignment for SecondsOut in Las Vegas, where Hasim Rahman and Lennox Lewis will battle for the heavyweight championship on November 17th. Thus, he submitted his testimony to the legislative committee in writing.
Testimony of Thomas Hauser
During the past month, I've been asked several times whether these hearings are necessary. After all, Mel Southard is gone; and his replacement, Raymond Kelly, is widely regarded as a man of integrity and ability. My answer is that these hearings are more important now than ever.
The past nine weeks have shown us all the importance of government. As New Yorkers and as Americans, we are relying on government to safeguard our lives and help us through this difficult time. Moreover, the rebuilding of downtown Manhattan will be the largest construction project in the history of New York. It will provide tens of thousands of jobs and lead to massive government expenditures. It will also provide unique opportunities for wartime profiteering and corruption.
An examination of the New York State Athletic Commission offers a window on how the present gubernatorial administration has seen fit to conduct business in New York. Enough was written about the situation, including front-page stories and editorials in the New York Post, that the Governor had to have been aware of the fact that the NYSAC was rife with corruption and incompetence long before the tragic death of Beethavean Scottland. Yet business as usual continued because the Commission was a slush fund for the New York State Republican Party.
This is not a boxing issue. It's a governmental issue. I hope that this Committee will conduct its investigation accordingly.
The first step in the corruption of the New York State Athletic Commission was the appointment of Floyd Patterson as chairman. Patterson suffered from serious memory lapses and other cognitive difficulties. He was a figurehead; nothing more. Using Patterson as a cover, the powers that be filled an increasing number of commission jobs with people of questionable competence who knew next to nothing about professional boxing but were politically well-connected.
Some dedicated public servants worked, and still work, at the NYSAC. But by and large, the most qualified employees -- men like Joe Dwyer, Bob Duffy, Tony Mazzarella, and Tom Hoover -- were forced out or chose to leave the commission because of the lack of professionalism that surrounded them. In their place, the NYSAC appointed ring officials who didn't understand what goes on in a boxing ring. Many of these officials were given their jobs as a result of contributions to the Republican Party or in return for work on behalf of Republican Party candidates. Quite a few of them had "no show" jobs.
The 1999 championship bout at Madison Square Garden between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis showed a corrupt system at its peak. The NYSAC assigned 25 inspectors and demanded 67 ringside credentials for the fight. By contrast, the State of Nevada employs only 13 inspectors statewide and assigns no more than five inspectors to any given fight card.
There were 16 fight cards in New York in 1999. The best estimate is that, during that year, the New York State Athletic Commission cost taxpayers in excess of $1,400,000. That comes to $87,500 per card. The same year, Nevada hosted 42 fight cards, and the total budget for the Nevada State Athletic Commission was $325,000. That comes to $7,738 per card. In other words, it cost 11 times more to regulate a fight card in New York than in Nevada.
Meanwhile, no one has been protecting the fighters financially; no one has been protecting the fighters physically; and no one has been protecting the integrity of the fights themselves. Listen to what some Commission personnel had to say during the past year about the situation:
*"The assignments are coming from Albany. The politicians have to be satisfied that the right people are in the corner and in the ring, particularly when a fight is on television."
* "We're not even a Commission anymore. All we are is a slush fund for the party. Our primary guideline is, what will this fight or this appointment do for the party. Any guy in a local Republican club can say, "I want to be an inspector for a night," and it's done. Most of the inspectors have no idea what they're doing. There are a few good ones left, but the great majority just stand in the corner and have no idea what's going on. Anyone who gives enough money to the Republican Party can get a job for his son or his son's friend. It's disheartening for the few decent people who are left at the Commission, and it's dangerous beyond belief for the fighters."
* "The people at the Commission have no idea what's going on. These guys are incompetent; they're dishonest. All they care about is the Republican Party and themselves. They got guys working there who are cousins of cousins and friends of friends, and it has nothing to do with what's good for boxing. Guys are picking up fifty thousand dollars a year for doing nothing. If you need six inspectors for a fight, they send 14; and eight of the 14 guys just sit there eating and drinking, having a good time."
* "Everybody knows what's going on at the Commission. To get a job, it helps to know someone in the Republican Party, contribute money to the Republican Party, or work for the Republican Party. There are certain people at the Commission on full salary who are supposed to come to work every day, and I almost never saw them."
* "The way the game is played, it's who's the biggest Republican. It's a shame what they've done; they've caused so much harm. This regime has completely ruined the Commission."
The demise of the NYSAC medical department is a case in point. Bill Lathan began work with the commission as a ringside physician during the tenure of Jack Prenderville decades ago. He served as Medical Director from February 1996 until the summer of 2000, when he was told that the NYSAC would be "discontinuing that line in the budget." As a practical matter, the line wasn't discontinued. The duties and salary associated with it were transferred to Dr. Barry Jordan.
"The NYSAC is no longer a regulatory body," Lathan said shortly before the oust of Mel Southard. "There's no mission or sense of purpose. And what's particularly troubling to me is, the New York State Athletic Commission had a venerable tradition when it came to its medical department, and now that tradition has been corrupted. Why would they destroy the medical department?"
In examining the medical department, it would be instructive for this State Assembly committee to look at Dr. Robin Scarlata. Dr. Scarlata is a radiologist, who received her medical degree from George Washington University. She is currently secretary of the Nassau County Medical Society and affiliated with a radiology group. These are respectable credentials.
Dr. Scarlata was on staff at the NYSAC for several years, including 1999, at an annual salary of $48,205. Tom Hoover describes her as "that chick who didn't want to do anything, who never showed up and got paid. Her daddy," Hoover adds, "was someone big in the Republican Party." Of Scarlata and Lathan, Bob Duffy says, "One was political and one was there to work." Larry Mandelker, former counsel to the NYSAC, says, "Robin Scarlata is a very good doctor." Mandelker declined to discuss Scarlata's tenure with the NYSAC, although he did acknowledge that her father was "very friendly with Al D'Amato."
Dr. Rufus Saddler was the ringside physician assigned to Beethavean Scottland's corner on June 26th; the night that Scottland was beaten to death. Section 8926 of the Unconsolidated Laws of the State of New York provides, "The physician shall terminate any boxing match if, in the opinion of such physician, any contestant has received severe punishment or is in danger of serious physical injury . . . . Such physician may enter the ring at any time during a boxing match and may terminate the match if in his opinion the same is necessary to prevent severe punishment or serious physical injury to a contestant."
Dr. Saddler didn't terminate the bout that night. That can be forgiven. But more significantly, he never went to Scottland's corner between rounds to examine the fighter other than to check on a cut after round four.
"As a doctor, you have to be ambivalent about sitting at ringside to begin with," acknowledges Bill Lathan. Lathan is reluctant to assign blame for the Scottland tragedy. But he does say, "As a ring physician, you have to have instinct. You have to feel what's happening and know the game. Don't blame the referee if you don't do your job right. Do your job. That's what you should be concerned about; doing your job."
Tom Hoover is more direct. "I have to believe," says Hoover, "that if Bill Lathan had been in Beethavean Scottland's corner, that young man would be alive today."
Dr. Saddler was on duty again as a ringside physician at an August 4th ShoBox card in New York. He began the performance of his duties from a seat in the second row of the press section. Finally, before the start of round five of the first bout, Barry Jordan came over and suggested to him that he move a bit closer to the action. Fighters who fight in New York can be forgiven if they wonder whether the physicians assigned to their corner understand what they're watching as a fight unfolds.
Louis Brandeis once wrote, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." I believe it's incumbent upon this committee to cast the strongest light possible on the workings of the New York State Athletic Commission. More specifically, regarding each person who worked for the NYSAC at any time during the past three years, this committee should demand to know (1) what were his (or her) qualifications; (2) how did he get his job; and (3) did he do his job?
Special attention should be paid to the people at the top -- Mel Southard, Marc Cornstein, Jerry Becker, Jim Polsinello, Tony Russo, Lawrence Mandelker, and Ruby Marin. Moreover, this committee should track individuals within the system after they leave the NYSAC. For example, last year after the Gatti-Gamache weigh-in scandal, the New York Post reported that Tony Russo, then Executive Director of the NYSAC, was "being investigated over allegations he rarely shows up for work." Russo subsequently left the Commission "on medical leave." Where is he working now?
These times present special challenges for the State of New York. We have a right to expect that our government will function at its best. With regard to the New York State Athletic Commission, there's no need to change the law; just follow it.
The author can be contacted at thauserrcn.com