Boxing promoter Don King, on the eve of his arraignment on charges of income tax evasion, said today the charges were "baseless" and that he suspects competing boxing promoters of complicity in having the U.S. attorney here indict him.
King, 53, indicated in his first interview since being indicted last week that his defense against the principal charge -- that he had conspired with his secretary to divert more than $1 million in corporate receipts into personal accounts -- will be that, "I am Don King Productions."
King, who will be arraigned Friday in New York, said he felt he had the right, as head of Don King Productions, to make the decisions on how to withdraw the money from corporate receipts and how to spend the money for his company. He insists that it all was properly accounted for.
King has promoted more than 130 title fights in the last 10 years and controls almost all the top-ranked heavyweights, including champion Larry Holmes.
He said he will plead innocent to the 23 counts of filing false income tax returns and tax evasion. King also said he has paid an average of $3 million in taxes per year for the past decade and he would "have to be a fool" to risk a 46-year jail sentence for not reporting $422,000 in personal income for three years and not paying $210,000 in taxes on that income.
His secretary, Constance Harper, who holds the title of vice president of Don King Productions, also is charged with not reporting $195,000 in personal income and not paying $94,000 in taxes. She refused to comment on the case today.
The government alleges that King, a former numbers runner in Cleveland who once was jailed for four years on a manslaughter conviction, illegally took corporate receipts from Caesars Palace, the hotel resort and casino complex in Las Vegas. According to the U.S. attorney, King took as much as $70,000 in advances from the casino and used the money on personal expenses not connected with Don King Productions.
The indictment also charged that King and Harper later "expanded their scheme" to include monies paid to the company from the ABC television network, the Met Center in Bloomington, Minn. and other sites of major boxing productions.
King has promoted some of the best-known fights in the last decade, including the "Rumble in the Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, "The Thrilla in Manila" between Ali and Joe Frazier and both of Sugar Ray Leonard's fights against Roberto Duran.
King said today he had been aware of the investigation for four years and although the investigation was supposedly into the entire boxing industry, he said he felt Rudolph W. Giuliani, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, was led by other boxing promoters to "focus on me from the very beginning -- this was a get-Don King investigation."
King declined to name the boxing promoters he said were out to get him. Giuliani has not returned reporter's phone calls for the past week.
"I've been in the eye of the hurricane of investigations for eight years (including an FBI investigation of a series of boxing championship bouts he tried to stage in the mid-'70s) and when all is said and done, this is all they've come up with," King said today.
"I'm not saying the charges are trumped up," King continued, "but they are baseless and in court I will be completely exonerated. I filed my tax returns as completely as I could. Really, the government is my partner. I love America and I believe in America and taxes, that's the price you pay for a system like ours. The thing I object to is these people not only come at you to keep you straight, they want to break your spirit."
King also said that if he were not black, he would not be facing the charges. But he added that he is not "hiding behind my race or using it as an excuse. You can't separate it out, I'm an American who happens to be black," he said. "But I don't think this would be happening to me if I was of another persuasion . . . yes, white.
" . . . With all the things happening to me now, I'll take the credit for what I do right as well as the blame for what went wrong," he said. "With all the things happening to me now, I knew I was under the eye of the microscope and any rational person in that position would be careful. To do something like what they're alleging, I'd have to be an idiot or a complete fool."
King, who has been in seclusion since charges were filed last week, went to Harlem today to give away 500 turkeys for Christmas. He drove there in a Cadillac limousine and on his way, his chauffeur spotted Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan on Madison Avenue.
Donovan, who has been indicted on charges of grand larceny and fraud by a Bronx, N.Y., grand jury, came over to tell King: "Hang in there -- I know what you're going through . . . there are still good Americans but there are fewer and fewer, and we've got to stick together. The American people know what's going on. People stop me on the street and say, 'Mr. Secretary, we're with you.' "
As Donovan leaned through the open car window to speak to King, the boxing promoter replied: "Yeah, but you've got to go through the humiliation, the trauma, the expense and you've still got to perform to keep your business going. I was in a bar the other day and people were telling me they know this ain't nothing."
Donovan told King he is considering counter-suing the Bronx district attorney because "this has got to stop -- harassing people like you and me." King replied, "I hadn't thought about that."
In Harlem, where he met with Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D -- N.Y.) to hand out the turkeys, King was met with widespread support.
"After all the taxes you've paid," Rangel said, "I think it must be some bill you overlooked. You paid millions in taxes. Without you, there'd be no boxing in America."