The president and three other top officials of the International Boxing Federation have been indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on charges that they accepted bribes from promoters, managers and others to manipulate the rankings for fighters.
IBF President Robert W. Lee Sr., 65, of Fanwood, N.J.; his son Robert Jr., 38, of Scotch Plains, N.J.; former Virginia boxing commissioner Donald William Brennan, 86, of Warsaw, Va.; and Francisco Fernandez of Colombia, an international commissioner of the IBF, were named in the 32-count indictment issued Wednesday and unsealed yesterday.
According to the indictment, the four men received $338,000 in bribes, including $100,000 in 1995 to influence a heavyweight championship bout. The indictment lists 32 instances of bribery payments between 1985 and 1998 and includes charges of conspiracy and racketeering. Officials said seven promoters and managers and 23 boxers were involved, but none was named in the indictments.
"In the IBF, ratings were not earned, they were bought," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Cleary, the prosecutor in the case, said in a telephone interview.
Cleary said ratings in weight divisions "determine who gets the money fight, who gets to compete in championship bouts. . . . The defendants completely corrupted the IBF rating system. They solicited and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes with the promise . . . of moving boxers up in the ratings."
The IBF and professional boxing's two other major sanctioning bodies--the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council--play major roles in determining a boxer's opponents, and ratings are a major factor in determining a fighter's prize money.
Cleary said the grand jury indictment "is an important step for us. This is . . . a breakthrough development in what has been a long-term, broad-based investigation into widespread corruption in the boxing industry."
Walter Stone, a lawyer for the IBF, said, "These are allegations that have been floating around for years. . . . There has been a grand jury process going on for a substantial amount of time. And all we have heard is innuendos and media leaks. At least with an indictment the process is now open and the individuals being charged have a chance to speak through their attorneys and defend themselves. . . . Whether it turns out these allegations are true is a different matter."
None of the four defendants could be reached to comment.
Lee Sr. and Brennan, through arrangements between the prosecutor's office and their attorneys, surrendered to authorities and appeared yesterday afternoon in federal court in Newark and Richmond, respectively. Lee Sr. was released on $100,000 bond; Brennan was released on personal recognizance.
Lee Jr., who was arrested at his home yesterday, also appeared in federal court in Newark and was ordered held in a local jail for 24 hours, pending his admission to an inpatient drug treatment program, according to Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Fernandez, who lives in Colombia.
The largest separate bribe listed in yesterday's unsealed indictment was $100,000 in the heavyweight champion division. According to the indictment, a promoter paid $100,000 in 1995 to influence the IBF to grant a special exception for the heavyweight champion to defend his title against a specific opponent who was previously unranked in the IBF. In May 1995, the indictment states that Lee Sr., Lee Jr., Brennan and others solicited and accepted another $100,000 payment to grant a rematch between those same fighters.
The indictment also alleges that Lee Sr., Brennan and others laundered more than $150,000 in bribe proceeds to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.
Cleary said none of the promoters, managers and boxers was named in the indictment because they have not been charged. He said the investigation is continuing.
Asked if a June raid on the Florida offices of promoter Don King was related to the IBF investigation, Cleary declined to comment. He also declined to say if King was a target of the investigation.
Cleary said the prosecutor's office began its criminal investigation of the IBF in 1996 after former heavyweight boxing champion Michael Moorer filed a civil complaint in which he alleged corruption in the IBF rating system.
Each of the four defendants is charged with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. Each defendant could receive up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each charge, if convicted.
The defendants also face other charges, including mail fraud and money laundering. Mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.