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Friday, November 5, 1999

Boxing sanctioning body embroiled in bribe scandal

IBF president indicted on charges of taking money to change rankings

By Jeffrey Gold
Associated Press


NEWARK, N.J. - In the latest blow to the integrity of boxing, IBF president Robert W. Lee Sr. and three officials were indicted on charges of taking bribes from promoters and managers to manipulate rankings during a 13-year scheme.
   None of the 23 boxers believed to be involved was named in the indictment, but it referred to a fight in which a heavyweight champion faced a previously unranked boxer in 1995. There was only one such fight that year, when George Foreman defeated Axel Schulz to retain his title.
   The 32-count indictment, issued Wednesday by a federal grand jury and unsealed Thursday after the arrest of the IBF president's son, includes charges of conspiracy, racketeering and money laundering.
   "In the IBF, rankings were bought, not earned," federal prosecutor Robert F. Cleary said. "The defendants completely corrupted the IBF ranking system."
   He said the bribes, totaling $338,000, started shortly after the IBF was founded in 1984 and affected rankings in 10 of the 15 weight classes, with larger payments made in the heavier divisions.
   Indicted were IBF president Lee Sr., 65; his son Robert Lee Jr., 38, a liaison to the president; former Virginia boxing commissioner Donald William Brennan, 86, a past president of the U.S. Boxing Association, which is now the IBF; and Francisco Fernandez of Colombia, an IBF commissioner. Each faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
   The elder Lee was a New Jersey boxing commissioner until being removed from office in 1985 after a state panel ruled he violated ethics regulations. He denied the latest accusations after being released on $100,000 bond.
   "I'm innocent of these outrageous charges," Lee said, declining to answer any questions.
   Cleary would not say if a June raid on the Florida offices of promoter Don King was related to the investigation, and declined to say if King was a target.
   The investigation began before a controversial draw in the Evander Holyfield-Lennox Lewis heavyweight title fight, which prompted New York law enforcement agencies to start their own probes of the IBF. A rematch is scheduled for Nov. 13 in Las Vegas.
   With their rules and rankings, the International Boxing Federation and the two other major sanctioning groups - the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council - play a large role in determining a boxer's opponents. Fighters with higher rankings are usually paid more for bouts.
   In Mexico City, WBC president Jose Sulaiman said the IBF indictment "is indeed shocking and it might hurt the image of boxing."
   He has heard of bribery attempts to change rankings, but, "I have never heard in our case of anything like that."
   The indictment said seven promoters and managers were involved, as well as the 23 boxers. They have not been charged, and the indictment refers to them only by number. However, the investigation is continuing.
   Among the payments outlined in the indictment was $100,000 to the elder Lee and unnamed others in 1995 for a "special exception" in what is believed to be the Foreman-Schulz fight.
   Accusations regarding that fight surfaced in a 1996 lawsuit against the IBF by former heavyweight boxing champ Michael Moorer. Cleary said that lawsuit "kickstarted" the investigation.
   In one of his suits, which was later settled out of court, Moorer charged that Lee attempted to collect money to block a fight between Moorer and Foreman so he could jump Schulz ahead of Moorer.
   Foreman testified before the grand jury in April, but declined to discuss his testimony. Asked if he had ever paid a kickback, he said, "No."
   Foreman promoter Bob Arum, who also testified, said Thursday that he did not pay Lee. He declined to share his suspicions about who might have paid him.
   Messages seeking comment from Schulz's promoter, Cedric Kushner, were not returned.
   During its two-year investigation, the grand jury subpoenaed all IBF records since 1982 on rankings and contracts for fights, as well as checks, invoices, expense forms and telephone records.
   The elder Lee was allowed to surrender for his court appearance, while his son was arrested at his Scotch Plains home Thursday.
   The younger Lee, also facing drug charges, was ordered held for 24 hours so he can try to be readmitted to an inpatient drug program. Prosecutors said federal agents found what they believed was crack and powder cocaine when they arrested him.
   Brennan, of Warsaw, Va., made a court appearance in Virginia. He did not return a message seeking comment. An arrest warrant was issued for Fernandez, but he faces no extraditable charge.

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