L. Ben Lewis, former operations officer at the Beverly Hills (Calif.) branch of Wells Fargo National Bank and the missing figure in an alleged $21 million Wells Fargo embezzlement case, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles yesterday to two counts of misappropriating $1.8 million from the bank.
Dean Allison, assistant U.S. attorney, said Lewis has agreed to testify against former boxing promoter Ross Fields. Fields is also known as Harold Smith, who as president of Muhammad Ali Professional Sports Inc. has been accused by the bank of masterminding the embezzlement.
Fields, who attended American University and promoted fights and rock concerts in the Washington area, has been indicted on charges of embezzling $5 million from the bank.
In his arraignment yesterday, Fields pleaded innocent to 32 counts of conspiring to defraud Wells Fargo. He also won a $50,000 reduction in his bail -- to $200,000 -- after a tearful plea for his freedom. "I ain't running nowhere because I don't have to," he told the court.
Lewis dropped out of sight in January after bank officials called him in for questioning about the missing funds. He had, at Fields' request, been holding checks that otherwise would have bounced, Allison told U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall.
To make up the missing funds for the checks, Allison said Lewis began using a method in which internal files of the bank were miscoded to make it appear there were sufficient funds to cover the checks.
He said evidence in the case will show that the money was embezzled for Fields' benefit and sometimes at his direct request.