"He could sell the world," recalled one former associate.
"He could get money out of a lamp post," said another.
"He's got the quickest mind I've ever seen, and he worked all the angles. Sharp. Very sharp."
"He was a genius at keeping the ball in the air to make it look as if everything was going to be all right."
Such were the descriptions yesterday of Ross Fields, the former American University student, Washington disco owner and operator, and sports and concert promoter who admitted Monday to having lived for the past five years under the name of Harold J. Smith.
Under that name, Fields organized and became chairman of Muhammad Ali Professional Sports Inc. (MAPS), taking the boxing world by storm with the promotion of some of the richest prize fights in the country as well as several indoor track meets.
He also became a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him of defrauding the Wells Fargo National Bank in California of $21.3 million. On Monday, a federal magistrate in Los Angeles ordered him held in lieu of $200,000 bail on charges of falsifying passport information, forgery and false pretenses. Bail was raised to a total of $400,000 today after Smith was served a warrant from North Carolina charging him with "theft by deception."
Characteristically, Fields was said to be buoyant and confident about his future.
"He feels fabulous.He feels like a free man," said his lawyer, Jennifer King."As soon as we can get the paper work done, we'll get him bailed out of jail."
Asked where the money would come from, King said, "He's got a lot of friends. He's a good man. He's going back to his family and his job. The man is joyous."
Before his dramatic courtroom confession Monday, Field's true identity was not known even to his lawyer. "I was a student of Dr. Martin Luther King, and he once told me, 'You can only live a lie for so long.' Now I am back to telling the truth. I am Ross Eugene Fields," Fields said.
Yesterday, those who knew him in his Washington years recalled Fields, who attended American University between 1963 and 1966 and participated in track and field there, as a smooth talker, a smart dresser who had lofty ideas and grandiose plans.
Barry Bernstein, a New York booking agent who worked with Fields as a site promoter for the July 26, 1971, Muhammad Ali-Jimmy Ellis fight, recalled him as "a nice guy, very soft-spoken."
Fields, by then living in Silver Spring, promoted closed-circuit telecasts of that fight in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile, Ala.; Wilmington, Del., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Knoxville and Memphis, Tenn.
"I had no bad dealings with him," said Bernstein.
John Martin, a Gaithersburg retail beer and wine distributor, recalls working with Fields on a Sammy Davis Jr. scholarship benefit concert at Constitution Hall while Fields was still at AU and Martin was a student at Montgomery College.
"He was a supersalesman, but he always wanted to get as much money as he could," said Martin. "Way back then, he wanted to charge $10 a ticket."
"He was a genius," said James Newby, a former Howard student who worked with Fields on the same concert. "I'd like to get hold of him to tell him he's still get friends back in D.C."
Owner and operator of the Sammy Davis Jr. discotheque at 13th and E Streets NW and a promotions organization called Ross Fields Productions, Fields had cultivated a relationship with the singer and is said to have named the disco after him in the hopes it would improve what had been a faltering business.
Davis said he had no financial interest in the discotheque and that he had not seen Fields in almost 10 years. He said he agreed to permit the use of his name in an effort to support black-owned businesses in the Washington area.
In any event, both businesses folded, and by the early 1970s, Fields, a native of Birmingham, Ala., had left town. In 1973 and 1974, said federal prosecutor Dean Allison, Fields and his wife, Alice Vicki Darrow, traversed the country passing 100 bad checks in 30 states.