By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
“THE TOP RANK SCANDAL IS OLD NEWS”
Miami, Florida –Much has been written over the past few days regarding Top Rank and what promises to be one of boxing’s biggest scandals. What if I told you that the same alleged infractions -and individuals- grabbing headlines now were officially reported to the head of the Justice Department’s -and chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government- as far back as March of 1997?
Our investigative report has yielded the following information (in chronological order):
During a casual conversation at a Convention, NABF President Claude Jackson asks Indiana Boxing Commissioner Jacob Hall about a fighter named Tim Bennett. Mr. Hall doesn’t seem to know the fighter, and bothered by that, asks for Mr. Bennett’s physical description, which is remarkably similar to that of another fighter by the name of Craig Houk. Days later, his curiosity peaked, Mr. Hall asks to see Mr. Bennett’s license application. He then drives to the address listed on the form, on So. Meridian St., which leads him to a cemetery, obviously a fake address.
Upon closer examination of several fighters’ licenses Indiana’s Jacob Hall and Missouri’s Jim Hall, (no relation), realize that there are a number of applications seemingly filled out by the same person -or someone with very similar handwriting- and all are going to the same Oklahoma City address, which turns out to be Pat O’Grady’s home address. The late Pat was Sean O’Grady’s dad and Sean Gibbon’s uncle. (More on Mr. Gibbons in a minute…)
Chicago boxing promoter Jose Venzor files a civil law suit against promoter Don King, fighter Julio Cesar Chavez, matchmaker Al Braverman and fighter Craig Houk.
Venzor’s law suit alleges fraud, fight fixing and racketeering. The law suit stems from issues related to a fight which took place July 25, 1995 in Chicago between Julio Cesar Chavez and Craig Houk. According to the charges Houk is fingered as a “bought” fighter, provided to Don King through the Indiana-Oklahoma connection of Sean Gibbons and Pete Susens. Houk was paid $50,000 for this fight. (The lawsuit was reportedly settled out of court).
SEPTEMBER 20, 1996:
A ‘Boxing News’ article entered into evidence in an investigation by the state of Oklahoma reads in part: “Since (Sean) Gibbons has reportedly racked up over 400,000 miles on the road, playing the hinterlands with his car packed with fighters who constantly face each other in the ring, he has been romanticized by the media. TV analysts Sean O’Grady, ESPN’S Al Bernstein and Boxing News’ Eric Arsnit are particularly guilty.”
NOVEMBER 18, 1996:
Indiana Boxing Commissioner Jacob Hall is deposed in Indianapolis, Indiana, regarding the Venzor v. King lawsuit. Mr. Hall introduces irrefutable documentation proving that there are serious problems with Sean Gibbons, Pete Susens, Craig Houk and others, related to fight fixing, fighters fighting under different names and a slew of other illegal activies. (Mr. Hall’s deposition is over 200 pages long).
The Oklahoma Department of Labor (ODOL), responsible for the regulation of professional boxing in Oklahoma, discusses preliminary findings of their six-month investigation into the sport of boxing with the FBI, IRS and Social Security Administration. Upon completion of the investigation, the ODOL provided its full report to all above named agencies.
1) – Investigator W. A. “Skip” Nicholson submits his report entitled “Allegations of Fraud and Other Corruption in Professional Boxing” to Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau. While this report is too lengthy to cite here, here are some of its highlights:
- Fighter Craig Houk – According to testimony Houk often cashed checks and ‘paid back’ money to Pete Susens. He also testifies to using several different Social Security numbers in connection to the names Tim Bennett and Gary Meyers.
- Fighter Keith Whitaker testifies to lies and deception… “Pete Susens took from the top and the bottom,” said Whitaker, explaining that if the purse for a particular fight was $10,000, Susens would tell the fighter the purse was $5,000 (Susens cut 50% off the top) and then collected an additional 33-1/3% from the fighter’s $5,000 as a manager’s fee. Thus, the ‘top and bottom’ term…
- Fighter Verdell Smith testifies to listing his own Social Security number in Oklahoma, using a different one in Missouri under the name Tim Bowles and yet another one in Indiana under the name Tim Brooks. According to Smith’s testimony Sean Gibbons made the fake documentation possible.
- Testimony indicates that Sean Gibbons and Pete Susens placed the fighters in physical danger forcing them to fight outside their weight class. Using phony ID’s also allowed fighters to bypass medical suspensions, and several examples are cited in this report detailing how a fighter who had suffered a knockout would fight days later under a different name.
- Testimony indicates that Sean Gibbons and Pete Susens harbored fugitives. Several fighters who were on the run from the law, were given phony ID’s under which they fought for as little as $100 a fight.
- Testimony indicates that Sean Gibbons and Pete Susens smuggled Mexican fighters across the border, often calling Immigration on them to keep from paying them, or issuing fake ID’s and having them fight for as little as $100 a fight.
- Testimony indicates that on July 2, 1996 Bruce Trampler gave Tim Lueckenhoff a letter of confirmation from the Tijuana Boxing Commission rescinding the suspension of fighter Lee Cargle. The fighter had tested positive for drugs, and was scheduled to fight on this date in a Kansas City, Missouri card under the supervision of Mr. Lueckenhoff, who nevertheless deemed him ineligible, much to the chagrin of Sean Gibbons and Bruce Trampler. It was later discovered that the letter was a forgery.
2) – Howard Altman, Editor of Philadelphia’s City Paper writes award winning “King’s Pawns” where he cites sordid details related to Venzor’s lawsuit, as well as the so-called Sean Gibbons-Pete Susens Indiana-Oklahoma connection.
*”King’s Pawns” earned an Honorable Mention in the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s 1998 Keystone Press Awards.
MARCH 12, 1997:
Reacting to the Oklahoma Report, “Allegations of Fraud and Other Corruption in Professional Boxing,” Senators Richard Bryan, (D-Nev) and John McCain, (R-Ariz) write then Attorney General Janet Reno. Their 2-page letter to Ms. Reno says in part:
“We want to bring to your attention a revealing state report on allegations of fraud and corruption in the professional boxing industry. The enclosed Executive Sumary of the Special Report to the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner released February 13th, provides extensive information on corrupt practices in professional boxing. It should be of significant concern to federal law enforcement authorities.
“The Oklahoma Report is the result of a six month investigation into corrupt business practices in the boxing industry in Oklahoma, Missouri and other Midwestern states. It describes the widespread use of fraudulent names by boxers, sham fights that have been fixed by unscrupulous promoters, violations of medical regulations that protect boxers; and allegations of racketeering.
“Federal authorities should be concerned with the (Oklahoma) Report’s allegations of tax evasion, Social Security fraud, harboring of fugitives, transportation of fugitives across state lines, and forgery. Oklahoma officials have notified the FBI, SSA, and IRS in this regard.
“We can assure you that the abuses described in the Report are not limited to the states or individuals described therein. This is a nationwide problem. Senate hearings over the past four years have repeatedly shown that fraud, inadequate safety standards, and unethical practices in professional boxing occur throughout the U.S. This jeopardizes the health and welfare of “unknown” club boxers, and fosters fraudulent business activity that defrauds state governments and cheats the public…”
MARCH 28, 1997:
USA Today boxing beat writer Jon Saraceno publishes an article entitled “Club-show probe catches senators’ attention” (sic) and it says in part:
“Fight fixing. Forgery. Tax evasion. Social Security fraud… Welcome to the shadowy world of club-show boxing in parts of the Midwest. At least that’s the contention of a recently published report -”Allegations of Fraud and Other Corruption in Professional Boxing” – written by the Oklahoma Department of Labor.
“Two well known matchmakers on the Midwest club-show circuit, Pete Susens and Sean Gibbons, are the focal point of the Oklahoma report.
“Friday, Oklahoma is expected to turn down Gibbon’s application for a matchmaker’s license. This week, the 30-year old Oklahoman was OK’d in Texas and Nevada, considered the most stringent commission. Gibbons has worked with top promoters Bob Arum, Dino Duva and Cedric Kushner. “Susens, from Indiana, and Gibbons are also mentioned in a federal breach of contract and fraud lawsuit filed last year (1996) against promoter Don King, matchmaker Al Braverman and two fighters.”The suit involves a 1995 non title fight between Julio Cesar Chavez and Craig Houk in Chicago… Houk, from Indiana, had a record of 47-6, though the suit says his victory total was padded with “fixed fights.” In a deposition Houk admitted also fighting under the names “Tim Bennett” and “Gary Meyers.”
APRIL 4, 1997:
John W. Malone, then Chairman of the Indiana State Boxing Commission, also writes then Attorney General Reno. His letter says in part:
“The Indiana Boxing Commission would like to bring to your attention, allegations of fraud and corruption in the professional boxing industry. Since these allegations allude to violations of federal and state statutes in regard to tax evasion, Social Security fraud, harboring of fugitives, transportation of fugitives across state lines, and forgery, the Commission believes the U.S. Department of Justice should review the matter.
“The Professional Boxing Safety Act (p.L. 104-272) empowers federal law enforcement officials to initiate civil and criminal actions against those who violate these boxing statutes. The Indiana Boxing Commission respectfully requests your assistance in the enforcement of this act and other federal laws in this regard…”
DECEMBER 3, 1998:
Indiana Boxing Commissioner Jacob E. Hall contacts Oklahoma’s 2nd Director of Boxing, Jim Gasso, regarding Sean Gibbons’ application for a promoter’s license in Oklahoma. Mr. Hall volunteered to travel to Oklahoma and personally testify against Gibbons, and his letter to Mr. Gasso says in part:
“Re: Sean Gibbons “As you are aware, I have been a boxing commissioner in the state of Indiana for the part eight years. During this time I also served as Secretary, Treasurer and now Director of the Association of Boxing Commissions. During this time, I have documented Mr. Gibbons acting as a second with many boxers using false identifications. Some of the boxers are:
|Craig Houk||Tim Bennett and Gary Meyers|
|Reggie Strickland||Reggie Buse and Reggie Ragland|
|Eric Jakubowski||Dick Martin|
|Verdell Smith||Tim Brooks, Tommy Bowles, Terry Williams|
|Rocky Berg||Rocky Vires|
“I gave this information containing photographs, video tapes, and license applications to the office of the Attorney General for the State of Indiana.
“I would recommend you investigate his relationship with Oklahoma boxer Verdell Smith. Mr. Gibbons worked Mr. Smith’s corner in Indiana when he used the name Tim Brooks. Mr. Gibbons worked Mr. Smith’s corner in Missouri when he used the name Tommy Bowles. Just recently Mr. Gibbons worked Mr. Smith’s corner in Nevada where he used his correct name in a bout against Oba Carr.
“Based on my knowledge of Mr. Gibbons activities as a second, I would not consider Mr. Gibbons as a credible spokesman for boxing.”
For the record, Mr. Hall’s charges went unanswered. His effort to stop Gibbons’ shady practices fell on deaf ears and in spite of his documented illegal and unethical behavior, Gibbons was issued a license in the state of Oklahoma.
One can’t help but wonder how did Sean Gibbons manage to also get licensed in Nevada. Since the Association of Boxing Commissions had knowledge of these reports/incidents, it stands to reason that Marc Ratner, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission had to have knowledge of the seriousness of the charges documented against Gibbons, but he was granted a Nevada license just the same. Hmmm…
JANUARY 6, 2004
A twenty-month probe dubbed Operation Match Book, spearheaded by an undercover New York Police Department detective working with an FBI special agent, culminates with sixteen federal agents paying a not so friendly visit to Bob Arum’s Top Ranks offices in Las Vegas, Nevada. The raid is conducted pursuant to a sealed search warrant; federal agents seized computers, boxing contracts, medical records, video tapes and financial documents.
Consequently to the Las Vegas raid Bob Arum offers a statement which reads in part: “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.”
JANUARY 9, 2004
Secondsout.com’s Thomas Hauser reports in part: “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… The world sanctioning organizations could come in for renewed scrutiny, as might the involvement of Top Rank personnel in the death of Bradley Rone…”
JANUARY 13, 2004
Shortly after the FBI came calling and Arum’s statement was issued, Top Rank’s honcho served the first sacrificial lamb, Sean Gibbons, whose official title had been assistant Top Rank matchmaker to Bruce Trampler.
Top Rank attorney Richard Wright tersely explained the firing:
“Mr. Gibbons was terminated for unspecified reasons and I do not believe any other employees have been terminated at this point.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sean Gibbons is rumored to be “collaborating” (as in ratting up) in this investigation, which according to a government agent who shall remain anonymous, promises to deal the sport of boxing a major blow.
It is very hard to believe that savvy Bob Arum, a one-time New York attorney in the Justice Department under Robert Kennedy, was not aware of the abominable and illegal behavior blatantly and continuously exhibited by his underlings Sean Gibbons, Pete Susens and Bruce Trampler.
It is even more inconceivable that the documented and officially reported conduct of these individuals was never a source of concern for any of the states which licensed them, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada and/or Top Rank’s boss. But wait, I believe that herein lies a story within this story…
Did Senators McCain and Brian follow up on their September 1997 letter to then Attorney General Janet Reno? If they did, what happened? If they didn’t, why didn’t they? What prompted the FBI to spend what had to amount to hundred of thousands of taxpayers dollars to uncover facts that had already been unearthed years prior?
Why did the investigation of these charges lodged in Oklahoma, which was thoroughly documented lead nowhere? Who stopped it and why? Let’s take it a step further… Why hasn’t Senator McCain made any comments regarding the Top Rank developments, and the fact that he had knowledge of these men’s misconduct years ago? I ask you, what is wrong with this picture?
Is there accountability in the sport of boxing? Judging by the events discussed herein, the answer would have to be a resounding NO, there isn’t any, and that definitely needs to change.
It seems like the beat goes on, and the more some of us cry out for change, the more things seem to remain the same.
For the record, Craig Houk fought in my backyard (Florida) this past December 5, at the Seminole Coconut Creek Casino, in a Warrior’s Boxing Promotions. Mr. Houk was one of the participants in the evening’s main event, sharing the spotlight with the senior Hector Camacho. Looking like a bad club fighter on his best day, and throwing wild punches with his eyes closed, Houk somehow managed to deck Camacho in the opening stanza, (gasp!) only to lose by way of TKO in the third round.
Perhaps this investigation will run its course, unlike the one in Oklahoma. Perhaps it will force those who feel they are above the law to give a good account of their actions, letting the chips fall where they may. If I had to make one boxing wish for the year 2004, that would definitely be it.