EMPIRE OF DECEIT by Dean & Bruce Henderson Allison


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Even by the fast-lane standards of pro boxing promoters, Harold Smith was a high flyer: outspending other promoters to sign name fighters like Tommy Hearns, Aaron Pryor, Michael Spinks, Ernie Shavers, and Gerry Cooney; organizing a card of eight title fights in one day; bringing huge entourages to Vegas for major bouts; savoring a lifestyle heavy on private planes, a yacht, cocaine, and attractive young women. Where, fight people wondered, did Smith and his company (Muhammad Ali Professional Sports) get the money? Virtually all of it--over $20 million, as it turned out--was embezzled from Wells Fargo Bank, through an astonishingly easy computer manipulation. Somehow, Allison and Henderson have turned this surefire material into a colorless book, though boxing buffs may read it if only to find out whether Ali himself, who lent his name to Smith's operation for a fee, knew what was up (he didn't). The bank scare was breathtakingly simple, a tinkering with Wells Fargo's computerized ""branch settlement system"" whereby Smith's inside partner (a well-intentioned black operations officer who saw Smith as another brother trying to make good) at branch-A would issue cashier's checks to Smith and then make it appear that a corresponding amount had been debited from Smith's account at branch-B. Needless to say, there were no debits. Meanwhile, MAPS entered upon a ""premeditated spending spree,"" designed to buy the loyalties of top fighters. Notwithstanding the odd debacle (in the 1979 ""Down Under"" tour, Ali ended up fighting an exhibition against Joe Bugner in the pouring rain outdoors), Smith came very close to cornering the pro boxing market: when the house of cards fell, he was promoting the 1981 ""This Is It"" card of eight title fights, the revenue from which might well have enabled him to pay back all the money embezzled from Wells Fargo and still come out a multimillionaire, with no one the wiser. Allison is the prosecutor who put ""Smith"" (actually, Ross Fields, a con man with a lengthy prior bad-check record) away for ten years; and he has all the facts. But the result is a formula job: crisis at the bank, long historical flashback to the rise of Harold Smith, investigation and prosecution. The key figure--Smith himself--remains an enigma, and like many prosecutors Allison apparently believes that lengthy rehashes of grand jury or court testimony are entertaining. Only for fight fans with lots of stamina.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday