A federal judge could do boxing a tremendous favor by bringing the full force of the law down upon boxing manager Robert Mittleman. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen.
Robert Mittleman has long been known in the boxing industry as a bad seed. The former rock&roll manager, who claimed to have once handled such acts as George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic, Rare Earth, and Bootsy's Rubber Band, has been around the sport for over three decades, started making significant inroads in the early '80s, and has left more than a few “marks” in his wake.
When mainstream America envisions the stereotypical sleazy boxing operative, it sees someone exactly like Mittleman – the type of person where contracts are not worth the paper they're written on, and where all plans to tell the truth are, well, soft, depending on which way the financial winds are blowing.
But even by boxing standards, Mittleman has always ranked low on the credibility scale.
For example – standard operating procedure for a booking agent is that if a fight is paying $3000, then $2500 of it will be offered to the fighter in the form of a purse, and $500 will be made by the agent “on the side”. In the so-called agent-to-agent deal, one booking agent “sublets” the task to another, and both parties will split up the side money.
Mittleman would customarily tell the other agent, who was actually securing the services of the fighter, that the deal was for $2500, with $400 on the side – an obvious and shameless attempt to pocket an extra hundred for himself out of the deal. I mean, NO promoter on earth ever budgets the awkward figure of $2900 for a fight.
Mittleman would nickel you.
Mittleman would dime you.
And now he may have to spend a nickel, a dime, or more – in the “can”, that is – unless he can DROP a dime on enough people.
In May, Mittleman pled guilty to three counts of sports bribery in connection with his role in fixing a fight between heavyweights Thomas Williams and Richie Melito in August of 2000 (Williams and matchmaker Bobby Mitchell are facing trial for the same offense), and another fight for Williams against Brian Nielsen in Denmark. He also entered a guilty plea on two counts of bribing a federal official – specifically a judge.
It seems that, not content with simply fixing WIlliams' fights, Mittleman tried to put the fix in on Williams' trial as well.
Unfortunately for the 61-year-old Michigan native, he was being set up; the go-between that pledged to deliver his down payment on a bribe to a federal judge ($3000 out of a reported $15,000) was Frank Manzione, well-known in boxing circles by now as “Big Frankie”, a New York City police detective who has been the main cog in a federal investigation of Bob Arum's Top Rank Productions.
So Mittleman found himself squarely in the soup.
And so at some point on this day, Mittleman will step into a courtroom in Las Vegas and discover what his immediate future holds, when he receives his sentence from a federal judge (presumably one who hasn't been paid off).
Of course, the whole story goes back nearly four years, to the day I got a call from a tipster that something was very fishy about the Thomas Williams-Richie Melito fight, which at the time was about three weeks away. I had been informed about an audiotape, recorded by Williams' manager, George Peterson, in which Williams allegedly was admitting BEFOREHAND that he had every intention of taking a dive in that fight.
But I hadn't heard this tape. In fact, to this day I haven't – Peterson turned it over to the FBI and they would not let anyone get a copy of it. So naturally, I had my doubts, not just about the validity of the tape itself but also about the entire scenario. For one thing, I had never heard of a fighter already admitting his complicity in a fight fix BEFORE the fight was to take place. And certainly no one had the ingenuity to make a recording of it.
But it wasn't long before these doubts were assuaged. I had gotten hold of a very reliable source, who not only confirmed that there WAS a tape, but had listened to it more than once and could detail its contents to me. The source had never heard of Robert Mittleman, but told me his name was mentioned prominently on it in connection not just with the fix that was about to happen, but also past fixes, including bouts against Brian Nielsen in Denmark and Lance Whitaker in Oklahoma.
When Mittleman's name came up, everything started to make more sense.
I was ready to go with a story, but didn't follow through, at least not right away. This is how I describe it in a special “Backstory”, which was published in the first “Operation Cleanup” book:
“Since this was a very reliable source – in fact, one I would classify as impeccable – I was now confident that a tape existed, even if I had not myself heard it. I could at least go ahead with some kind of piece, and what my first thought was to call Marc Ratner, the director of the Nevada commission, to find out whether he knew what was going on.
“Well, you can do whatever you want, but if you write something about this, or if you say something to Ratner, you're going to be blowing an FBI sting operation,” is what the source told me. As it turned out, shortly after he had heard the tape, it was turned over to the FBI (which is one reason I couldn't get a copy of it), and they were prepared to set themselves up around the fight, in order to observe what went on and to question Williams afterward.
In fact, the FBI had purposely left Ratner out of the loop on this. They figured that if they tipped him off as to what their intentions were, he would cancel the Williams-Melito fight, and then they would have nothing.
Likewise, if I wrote a story about the tape and the planned dive beforehand, that would kill the fight too, and then there would actually BE no story, would there?
So I stood down and waited to see what happened.
What happened was that the fight between Melito and Williams was the first or second fight of that day – scheduled for 4 PM Pacific time at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel&Casino, on what was to be a very long Don King fight card. Very few people usually show up this early in the day, especially when the main event was set to go on about five hours later. And on this particular occasion, according to who you talk to, NO ONE in the general public was even allowed in, with very few exceptions.”
Sure enough, Williams went out in the first round, and in dramatic fashion, apparently allowing himself to be hit and propelled through the ropes. At this point, the story I had been holding back on was ready to be unleashed on the world.
Once again, from “Operation Cleanup”:
“So I wrote it up, with all the details I was aware of, and published it at 8:45 PM Eastern time – which was about an hour and a half after the Melito-Williams fight ended. It was uploaded to the TotalAction website, sent out to my e-mail list, which at the time included about 400 boxing people, and posted on the rec.sport.boxing newsgroup.
Word got around very quickly. I also alerted a friend in Las Vegas who had not yet started for the arena; he printed the story, made copies, and a short time later, was circulating it around ringside, to the press in attendance as well as people from the Nevada commission. In the space of a couple of hours, everyone at ringside knew about the story, and I had already informed Marc Ratner that the FBI was soon going to be visiting him.
To me, this really illustrated the power of the internet. The immediacy of the information; the fact that it could get from one place to another, and get into so many hands so quickly, was mind-boggling. The fact that by the time the ten-rounders on the undercard had started, the news was being discussed at ringside, was an indication of how powerful this medium could potentially be.
This was a genuine “scoop”, although for some time, there were people who did not believe it had a shred of truth to it.”
Indeed, my understanding was there was at least one Las Vegas boxing writer, and maybe even two, passing word around that the story was “bullshit”.
That didn't stop 'reporters' like Wally Matthews and Teddy Atlas from taking my ball and running with it, using my work to compile their own 'exclusives'.
By now, we know there was certainly some substance to the story.
To many in the business, what happened to Robert Mittleman was not much of a surprise at all.
He has achieved some triumphs in boxing, to be sure. But more spectacular have been Mittleman's near-misses. With partner Steve Nelson, he signed Oscar De la Hoya out of the amateurs in 1992, but De la Hoya dropped the pair in a contract dispute just prior to catapulting into stratospheric earnings. And Mittleman was Nelson's partner in
Hasim Rahman, but was jettisoned from the deal prior to Rahman winning the heavyweight championship from Lennox Lewis. Adding insult to injury, another former Mittleman partner – Stan Hoffman – was subsequently brought aboard by Nelson.
Mostly, Mittleman has occupied himself booking fighters into all parts of the world, and chipping a few dollars here and there, sometimes a lot more, and generally swimming in what could be characterized as a more polluted part of the sea than most of the other fish in boxing.
In the industry, we had long heard whispers that a number of the fights Mittleman was putting together for Danish promoter Mogens Palle were somewhat less than legitimate. The star in Palle's stable – heavyweight Brian Nielsen – had been the victor in a number of matches that ended under rather questionable circumstances. Fighters like Bonecrusher Smith, Tony Tubbs, Phillip Jackson, Mike Hunter, and Andrew Maynard 'retired' in their fights with Nielsen, for injuries or some other` reason. Tubbs later became an employee of the Nielsen camp, working as an assistant trainer in preparation for Nielsen's fight against Mike Tyson.
Even the fighter who beat Nielsen – Dickie Ryan of Omaha – appeared to win only by accident, and only after Nielsen collapsed from exhaustion in their June 1999 fight. In a rematch, which Ryan accepted only after a large purse had been offered, Nielsen won by an eight-round decision.
As Nielsen's October 2001 fight with Tyson was approaching, I explored the credibility of some of Nielsen's foes on my website. Here is an excerpt from the story, which ran on August 25 of that year:
While the legitimacy of Nielsen's fights themselves may be a subject of debate, there would appear to be very little doubt about the lack of credibility of some of his opponents. Mittleman's matchmaking for Nielsen has been, to say the least, “imaginative”. A common practice of his – and one which is time-tested in boxing when it comes to opponents – is to use fighters with built-up records, from jurisdictions which are not particularly strict, who can't really fight at all, but who, at the same time, would be hard for a commission (especially the Danish commission) to turn down, based on their won-lost mark.
This has been done with many of Nielsen's opponents over the last couple of years, and oddly, it looks as if, in some instances, their records were padded almost for the specific purpose of “qualifying” them to fight Nielsen. Cases in point:
DON NORMAND, a Louisianan who defeated 22 nobodies before being knocked out in one round by Nielsen in October of '99. When he has moved up in class, Normand has been knocked out in three rounds by Obed Sullivan, two rounds by Darroll Wilson, Fernely Feliz, and Vaughn Bean, and in one round by Vassily Jirov. His most notable wins appear to be three victories over career loser Kenneth Bentley.
KEVIN COOK, who was 16-2 when he was KO'd in one round by Nielsen in October of last year, has been beyond five rounds only once in his entire career. And the only other recognizable name on his record is Reggie Strickland, who leads all of boxing with over 230 career losses. Cook had fought only 51 total rounds in his career when he stepped into the ring with Nielsen.
JEFF PEGUES also had 51 rounds of experience, spread over 24 fights, before Nielsen stopped him in the third round in February of 2000. At least Pegues has one win over
a name opponent – stopping aging Joe Hipp in seven rounds just two months before going to Denmark. In Pegues' other ventures into main event territory, he was knocked out in one round by Orlin Norris, Monte Barrett, and Shazzon Bradley, in two rounds by Ray Mercer, and three rounds by Willie Williams.
FRANKIE WOOD of Nashville took a 16-1 record to Denmark, when he was stopped in three rounds by Nielsen in November of 1999. Immediately prior to that, however, he fought the only capable opponent on his ledger – Miami's Sherman Williams – and was dispatched in two rounds.
TROY WEIDA was 35-3-2 before being stopped in eight rounds against Nielsen in January of 2000. But Weida, who has been knocked out in one round by both Dale Crowe and Rob Calloway, and three rounds by Wladimir Klitschko, has padded his record against plenty of circuit losers, including three wins over both the oft-beaten Lorenzo Boyd and Brian Yates, and two wins in three matches against……………..
BENJI BAKER, a Kentucky fighter who has gone beyond six rounds just once – against Weida – and who was halted in six rounds by Nielsen in April of this year. Baker's 18 victims include the aforementioned Lorenzo Boyd, Brian Yates, and Reggie Strickland, as well as low-level opponents Jerry Harris, Larry Givens, and Jim Huffman (who by the way, also fought and lost to Nielsen).
With the dubious credentials of these kinds of opponents, which indeed constitute the bulk of Nielsen's record, coupled with the cloud of suspicion hanging over the outcomes of his fights, and the Federal investigation that is continuing, one has to wonder whether this is an ideal opponent for Tyson, or anyone else for that matter, who is looking to re-instill some public confidence on the way to a title shot. Perhaps some re-consideration is in order.”
In other words, it's altogether possible that Mittleman was 'networking' with others who shared the same matchmaking philosophy, in order to bring a steady supply of opponents to Palle's shows that could claim to be qualified.
Since I was the writer who originally broke the story of the alleged Williams-Melito fix, and have been a consistent critic of Mittleman, I was interviewed quite a bit by Danish television and print media over a two-week period after Mittleman's plea, as they pursue the admitted felon's ties with Palle.
A couple of the guys asked me if I had been in contact with Thomas Williams since I heard the news about Mittleman. I told them, in so many words, that it hadn't really occurred to me, since it was inconceivable that anyone who has a pending judicial proceeding would be stupid enough to risk exacerbating things by talking to the press.
Well, apparently Mittleman, before any sentencing hearings, is a foolish exception to that.
Reporter Steve Springer interviewed him for his May 5 story in the Los Angeles Times. In the first line of the piece, Springer writes that Mittleman described his actions in fixing fights as “out of character”.
“I've been in boxing for over 35 years, except for a couple of years in the music business, and I've never done anything like this, “Mittleman told Springer. “I had an exemplary record, a clean record in boxing. I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was that I was disciplined once for yelling at a referee in Vegas.”
In his story, Springer did not appear to challenge Mittleman on that statement. But the slightest bit of research might have revealed some interesting – and contrary – information.
For one thing, Mittleman is still officially under suspension in Mexico. The Mexico City Boxing Commission handed down an indefinite suspension against him on June 11, 1999 – reportedly the result of his attempts to steal a welterweight named Miguel Rodriguez from promoter Raul Cruz, who was well-connected with that commission. Of course, the suspension was still in effect as of July of 2002, when I informed Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions, and Jake Hall, an Indiana boxing commissioner, about the disciplinary action, as Mittleman brought Hector Quiroz to fight Jose Celaya on the undercard of the Shane Mosley-Vernon Forrest rematch in Indianapolis.
Lueckenhoff and Hall acknowledged the suspension, talked to Mittleman about it, asked him to resolve the situation on his own, and allowed him to work the corner for the fight.
To this date, Mittleman has not gotten it taken off his record. Perhaps there's no justification to remove it.
But it's not so much what Mittleman HAS been disciplined for, it's what he COULD have easily been disciplined for.
The California commission was concerned about Mittleman's Mexico City suspension and was not going to let him work the corner of junior middleweight Wilfredo Rivera when he came to fight Shane Mosley in September of '99. But Rivera refused to come out of the dressing room unless Mittleman was there with him, so California rolled over, rather than throw a monkey wrench into what was an HBO show.
Mittleman is also a serial interloper. The reason the aforementioned George Peterson was estranged from Thomas Williams is that Mittleman had circumvented Peterson's agreement in order to book Williams into fights without Peterson's knowledge and/or approval. Peterson, not sitting still for that, proceeded to set Williams up with the audiotape, and, well, you know the rest.
After Rahman won the heavyweight title over Lennox Lewis, Mittleman popped back into the picture, pouncing on what appeared to be an opportunity to put together the new champion's first title defense. On May 9, 2001, Mittleman made an offer to his client, Palle, for Nielsen to fight Rahman for the world title:
I have an offer for Brian Nielsen to fight the WBC/IBF/IBO heavyweight champion of the world, Hasim Rahman. The date would be August 4, 2001. The site would be Hong Kong, China. I need to know whether you are interested in delivering Brian Nielsen for this fight. The terms to be discussed.
The problem was, there really was no offer and certainly no authorization from anyone for Mittleman to deal on behalf of Rahman.
“Different proposals were being offered left and right, “said Steve Nelson, the co-manager of Rahman and Mittleman's former partner. “We were totally free agents. We had the right to negotiate with anyone, and we did. He (Mittleman) wanted to see if he could make a Nielsen fight. But there was no authority to make any kind of deal. We were interested, but nothing was finalized, and nothing was ever truly offered to them (Nielsen).”
Nelson, who says Rahman wanted Mittleman taken off the management agreement at some point in 1999, was not bringing Mittleman back on board in any capacity.
“No, he (Mittleman) was not invited, “Nelson told me.” In fact, the day before he visited Rock, which he did in Baltimore, he was with me, and he gave me no indication that he was planning on making a little side trip to Baltimore, which obviously he did do……The only thing he did that got both myself and Stan Hoffman (Nelson's new partner in Rahman) upset was that he brought the proposal (for the Nielsen fight) directly to our fighter.”
We also caught Mittleman lying on a Wisconsin manager's application, filled out when he brought Thomas Williams for a fight with Michael Grant at a casino in that state in July of 2002 (when my 'Operation Cleanup' report – Chapter 29, to be precise, pointed out that Williams was under indictiment, the fight was later re-classified as an exhibition).
Mittleman answered “NO” to all the disciplinary questions on the application, including this one – “Has any licensing or other credentialing agency ever taken any disciplinary action against you, including but not limited to, any warning, reprimand, SUSPENSION, probation, limitation or revocation?”
He neglected to list his suspension in Mexico, which was very much in force at the time.
Williams also lied on his application.
When encountered with this question -“Have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, or driving while intoxicated (DWI), in this or any other state, OR are criminal charges or DWI charges currently pending against you?”, Williams checked the “NO” box.
The charge for signing an application while knowingly supplying false information is perjury.
Both Mittleman and Williams may have perjured themselves. And if Mittleman – who wrongly told the people at Cedric Kushner Productions that Williams had no pending charges against him – in any way directed or advised Williams on how to answer the application, he may have suborned perjury.
The state of Wisconsin has never pursued charges against Mittleman or Williams, but perhaps it's something for them, and the FBI, to consider.
Mittleman also got involved in an arrangement with Diane Fischer, an Atlantic City-based promoter, in connection with a June 29, 2002 HBO-televised fight card on which Wladimir Klitschko defended his WBO heavyweight title against Ray Mercer.
Mittleman and Fischer were handling the live gate for the show, by way of a deal Mittleman had supposedly worked out with Peter Kohl of Universum, the promoter for Klitschko. It gets a little fuzzy as to how this agreement was consummated; our information is that Mittleman told Kohl that Cedric Kushner, who was also involved with the promotion, was guaranteeing a site fee, but Kushner later denied to me that he had ever made such a guarantee.
Mittleman had a connection to Mercer, in the capacity of an “advisor”. But he was apparently not going to make any money as a function of Mercer's purse, because Mercer had just declared bankruptcy. Subsequent to that, Mittleman reportedly became disgruntled and developed a difference of interpretation with Fischer as to the terms of their agreement. Mittleman wanted his proceeds to be paid out of the gross receipts. Fischer insisted that revenues could only be divided after expenses were paid off the top.
This evidently included money that was to be forwarded to Kohl for the site fee.
Casinos along the Atlantic City boardwalk had purchased blocks of tickets for the show. Mittleman was to go to some of these casinos and pick up checks that were written in exchange for these tickets, for the purposes of putting them into the general “pot”. According to Fischer, the checks were written to her company, Dee Lee Promotions, something that would make sense, since she was the licensed promoter of record for the show.
But allegedly, Mittleman, who possessed neither a promoter's license from the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, nor a vendor's license (required to handle money from the casinos) from the Casino Control Commission, double-crossed Fischer by depositing those checks in his own account. And Kohl found himself missing some of the compensation for the site fee.
In point of fact, not only has the behavior of Robert Mittleman not been “out of character” for him, I would suggest that dishonesty is very much WITHIN his character.
As he gets ready to have his sentence handed down, Robert Mittleman is facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, but though there are no guarantees, he is confident he has “dealt” his way out of most of the severity of it. In fact, according to writer Pedro Fernandez, the United States Attorney in charge of the case, Kathleen Bliss, has recommended him for probation (Fernandez has also written that he heard differently from another U.S. Attorney). Mittleman, as part of his plea deal, has agreed to offer testimony against Thomas Williams and matchmaker/agent Bobby Mitchell when the federal fight fixing trial takes place.
The case is significant, in that it will be the first time, at least during my tenure in boxing, that someone has actually had to face charges for fixing a prizefight.
Even so, squealing on Williams and Mitchell couldn't possibly be enough to extricate Mittleman completely from his problem.
There has to be a bigger fish.
Of course, that fish is right there in Las Vegas. Bob Arum's Top Rank, which has been under investigation by federal authorities and whose offices were raided by the FBI in January, is the organization the aforementioned Manzione managed to infiltrate. Mittleman happened to be one of the people “Big Frankie” drew into his web, and part of the reason, obviously, is that Mittleman had substantial contact with Top Rank employees like Sean Gibbons, Bruce Trampler and Todd DeBeouf, and Top Rank associates like Cameron Duncan. Mittleman had served as manager of junior lightweight Carlos Hernandez, who holds the IBF 130-pound title and is under promotional contract to Top Rank.
You know, I've always wondered how a NYPD undercover detective wound up in Las Vegas investigating a promoter outside of his jurisdiction.
If you'll beg my indulgence, I've got a little theory – based on speculation, mind you – about how this whole thing unfolded, then came together. It's clear that even if Bobby Mitchell, who lives in South Carolina, had approached Mittleman about getting Williams to take a dive, as Mittleman will evidently testify to, Mitchell wouldn't have been the one taking money out of his own pocket to pay off opponents to throw fights for Melito. However, it had to come from somewhere. And, with apologies to all the pedestrian “reformers” who think that Don King is the end-all and be-all of boxing's problems, it is inconceivable to me that a sharp operator like King would invest money in fixing fights for someone with such a limited future, even if he did have him under a promotional contract.
Remember, King had only recently signed Melito before the Williams fight, but there had long been rumors about the credibility of Melito's fights. In fact, back in July of 1997, New York commission officials allegedly had to warn Bert Cooper about reports they heard about a pending dive, and apparently scared the former contender into knocking Melito out in one round.
If it's not King, and not Mitchell who supplied the funds, you have to look in another direction to find them.
So where else could they possibly have come from?
It would seem customary in a case like this to simply “follow the money” and see where it might lead. Which entity might supply Mitchell with financing, and would directly benefit? It would strain credulity if no one from the FBI went knocking on the door of Melito's managers. Well, Melito is managed by his father – Richie Sr. – a former NYPD officer. Reportedly, some of the other people around the fighter are former NYPD as well. One of those people was an affable publicist named Jack Purcell, who died earlier this year (but not before moving to South Carolina and covering several of Mitchell's shows).
NYPD cops, whether past or present, tend to speak to other NYPD cops. Maybe somebody knew “Big Frankie” Manzione (the undercover cop in the Top Rank sting), or whatever his name is, had some interesting information to lay on him, and helped him “mark” some of the subjects of the investigation.
Isn't it odd that there is a money trail that would logically appear to lead to the Melito camp, yet no one from that camp has faced an indictment in the last 3-1/2 years this case has been investigated? Could there have been some kind of arrangement? Or am I speaking too prematurely?
And regardless of that, what do the Melito case and the Top Rank case have as a common link?
Robert Mittleman, that's what.
Maybe one NYPD cop turned another NYPD cop on to Mittleman, and they followed his activities all the way to Las Vegas and Top Rank, which would be easy enough to do.
Once again, for all you litigious types out there, I'm just speculating.
But let me tell you another thing that's very odd, especially in light of the news that Mittleman is going to rat out Thomas Williams in open court.
It seems Williams may have been trying to cooperate with the Feds as well.
Sione Asipeli was scheduled to fight former cruiserweight champion Alfred Cole on Kushner's May 9, 2003 card in Atlantic City. Asipeli (conveniently?) found himself in jail, though there was still some hope that he night make it to the weigh-in. When he didn't, there, at the ready, was Thomas Williams, with required medical tests in hand.
Instead of corner men, Williams was accompanied by two men wearing suits and looking conspicuously out of place. The two men did confirm they were with Williams, but many at the weigh-in were curious about their involvement with the fighter.
Larry Hazzard, mindful of Williams' indictiment and pending trial, and noticing what was painfully obvious about his new “handlers”, would not allow Williams to be licensed, something that reduced the show to just four bouts, since Anthony Thompson, an orthodox Jew, had refused to fight on the Friday night card for religious reasons.
Later it was ascertained that the two men were indeed FBI agents, and had in fact identified themselves as such to some New Jersey state officials who were in the room, along with other people who had asked them directly about it.
Hazzard did not want any part of a possible “sting” operation.
But who was Williams there to set up? Was it Mittleman? Was it Kushner? Was it someone else? Where the agents there just to make sure Williams was going to put forth an honest effort? Eric Bottjer, the matchmaker for the show, tells me that once it looked like Asipeli might fall out of the show, Cole's connections – which included some of the financial people behind Kushner's company – specifically requested Thomas Williams.
Maybe it was a case of a guy just trying to make a living, and pay his lawyers.
Meybe not. I'm not sure it matters very much at this point.
The question now is, what exactly is Mittleman going to try and tell the authorities about Arum and his operation? What is he going to say about how the whole Williams-Melito thing was transacted?
My sense is, he'll dig deep, and he'll embellish, but he may disappoint the prosecution greatly. Simply put, any artful defense attorney would have a field day with him.
After all, Mittleman is an admitted liar – something has made its way into the public record.
As Lennox Lewis filed a civil suit against Rahman, seeking a rematch of his April 2001 loss, Mittleman approached Judd Burstein, the lawyer for Lewis, and told him that one of Rahman's contentions – that he had rejected a $75,000 payment from Cedric Kushner that would have kept him obligated to the promoter – was essentially false.
As I wrote in one of my reports for TotalAction on June 16, 2001, “The attorney says Mittleman originally came to him with information he said would be helpful to Lewis' case, and did so as a way of eliminating himself as a defendant in Lewis' lawsuit. Mittleman said in the affadavit that Rahman, who had been paid a $75,000 check by promoter Cedric Kushner to extend a promotional agreement the New York promoter had with him, was holding the check contingent upon the deal Kushner was to negotiate for him with either HBO or Showtime for subsequent heavyweight title defenses; if he liked the deal, Rahman was going to cash the check. If he didn't like the deal, Rahman was going to sign with someone else, return the check, and use that to facilitate negating any promotional claims Kushner may have had on him. 'That would indicate that he (Rahman) hadn't rejected it (the check),' says Burstein.”
But about a week before he was actually supposed to testify in court, pursuant to his affadavit, Mittleman went back to Burstein and told him that the sworn statement was not truthful.
Whether his about-face itself was truthful is not known.
Burstein was understandably despondent; he was counting on Mittleman's testimony to help his case, and didn't like the idea of changing his strategy on the fly.
Mittleman had indicated to Burstein that he was not all that interested in testifying in open court. Burstein told Mittleman that if he stiffed the court proceeding, he would seek a contempt charge, and that if he showed up and veered from his sworn affadavit, he would be committing a serious felony
Burstein told me at the time, “He'll tell the truth according to his sworn affadavit, unless he wants to admit to committing perjury. I'm assuming he won't lie. I have to assume that no one comes into a Federal court and lies, and that no one lies under oath generally. If he doesn't tell the truth, it then becomes a matter for the U.S. Attorney. And since his change of story may have resulted from someone getting to him, somebody else could be guilty of obstruction of justice.”
When the court date came, Burstein, after giving the matter a lot of thought, came to the conclusion that Mittleman just didn't have enough personal credibility to testify, and that, in fact, his appearance might actually hurt the case.
He told the judge, Miriam Cedarbaum,
“Just so the record is clear, based on a subsequent conversation, I made a determination that I could not present a witness where I could not be comfortable with whether he was telling the truth. I'm now of the view that Mr. Mittleman didn't need the assistance or the advice of anybody to decide not to tell the truth. To the extent that I made an allegation that I think I had a good faith basis for, believing the defense may have been involved, at this point I withdraw that allegation.”
In other words, as Burstein discovered and which he relayed to the judge, it was simply Mittleman's nature to lie.
How could anyone possibly believe Mittleman, even in a court of law, when he has demonstrated such a contempt for the truth, and a lack of any real credibility as a witness? Wouldn't there be some reasonable doubt – at least as far as some jurors are concerned – that what he claims about Williams is correct?
Keep in mind, whether it's out of sheer stubbornness or not, there are folks like Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada commission, and the aforementioned Fernandez, who would maintain that Melito's KO of Williams looked legitimate.
And one of Williams' attorneys told me that the audiotape around which some of this case is built is nebulous on spots, with some language and intent unclear.
Given those parameters, it's no slam dunk that the case against Williams and Mitchell will be successful, or that Mittleman will be useful.
What I'm told, however, is that there could be as many as two dozen more indictments handed down in relation to the Top Rank case.
Where all that will lead is anybody's guess. One thing for sure is that John McCain will be smiling from ear to ear, because he'll think he has some real ammunition to scare congressmen into voting for a national boxing commission.
The ironies are abundant, not the least of which is the fact that Mittleman, who appeared to be looking to help Williams at the beginning of all this, will now be turning on him to save himself.
But the biggest irony of all involves someone else, close to Mittleman, who could find himself in a bit of hot water.
You'll read about that in due time.