In the wake of a spreading boxing scandal, Wells Fargo Bank filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court today to recover $21.3 million that it contends was fraudulently withdrawn from its branch office in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The alleged embezzlement, under investigation by the FBI, involves Muhammad Ali Professional Sports Inc., a Santa Monica-based boxing promotions firm whose chairman disappeared a week ago in Puerto Rico.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who sold his name to the company, is seeking a private audit of the promoters' operations and asked that his name be dropped from the group.
At the center of the alleged embezzlement is Harold J. Smith, a 37-year-old onetime concert promoter, and L. Ben Lewis, an operations officer at Wells Fargo's Beverly Hills branch who left the bank Jan. 23 after 11 years.
Neither Smith nor Lewis has been seen in the past week, but neither is regarded as a fugitive.
In a statement released from its San Francisco headquarters, Wells Fargo said the total amount of missing bank funds is $21,305,000.
"Wells Fargo alleges the fraud was accomplished through an internal manipulation of funds involving some 13 accounts," the statements said.
In addition to the MAPS organization and Smith and Lewis, Wells Fargo said it was suing Muhammad Ali Amateur Sports Inc., (also run by Smith), MAPS president Sammie Marshall, Barbara Smith, Gladys Lewis, and Bodak Productions, Inc.
Stewart Shepherd, a Chicago attorney whose firm represents Ali, said the former champion is not an officer, director or shareholder in MAPS or Muhammad Ali Amateur Sports.
"He has no say whatsoever over what they do," Shepherd said. "Harold Smith is a longtime friend of Ali. He (Ali) allowed him to use his name. Ali is paid something by the organization for personal appearances and the use of his name."
Shepherd said his law firm asked the accounting firm of Arthur Anderson and Co. six weeks ago to audit the promotion company's books.
"We had requested the accountants to go in long before there was any wind of embezzlement," Shepherd said.
The California State Athletic Commission has confirmed that MAPS does not have a license to operate boxing matches this year in the state.
However, owners of the New Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles said a MAPS -- sponsored fight card will go on as scheduled this Saturday night.
There also was concern expressed in New York City over the fate of an $8-million fight card MAPS co-promoted for Feb. 23.