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Grudge Match—Tyson vs. King

The former heavyweight champion of the world and the world's most notorious boxing promoter are battling in court over millions of dollars.
Geoffrey Gray
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 1)

A shy, soft-spoken CPA, Maffia is likely to be a primary witness in Tyson's approaching trial. He was also a witness in the government's blown attempt in the mid-1990s to prosecute King. He first testified against King in front of the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations. Maffia is tired of testifying, he says, and prefers to let the numbers speak.

According to a copy of a 1998 ledger from DKP, for instance, Maffia's own $4,000 Christmas bonus from DKP was charged to Tyson. Although Maffia and King's other employees never technically worked for Tyson, the fighter also claims he covered an additional $28,000 in holiday bonuses for King's late matchmaker and public relations man, Al Braverman, King's executive director, Dana Jameson, King's limousine driver, Yusef "Captain Joe" Shah, and King's wife, Henrietta. Records show that Tyson even paid for a number of DKP's office supplies, extraneous purchases and charitable and political donations: $6,200 worth of turkeys from W&W Meats in Cleveland; a $15,000 donation for Father George Clements, not to mention bearing part of a $1,500 donation to Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton, an old friend of King's who also once went undercover for the FBI in one of the agency's many bungled attempts to convict King for virtually any crime it could find. Dozens of other entries were also billed to Tyson, everything from traveling expenses for King employees to the rent on a condo in Manhattan.

"Mike just didn't seem to care," Maffia says. "Maybe in his mind he figured he was making $10 million to $20 million a fight, so if some went missing, it wasn't really worth fighting for.

"We bombarded Mike with the bills and contracts," Maffia says. "It's not like we sat down with him like any other accountant might to a client and explain: This is what you're paying us for and why. He was never given the opportunity to read anything that was put in front of him."

"I'd sign anything he asked me to," Tyson told his lawyers about King. "I believed in him…"

The stakes in this case could not be higher. A dramatic courtroom showdown should decide the fate of both enigmatic boxing legends. "Only in America!" as King might say. With one jury decision, Tyson looks to score his biggest payday yet and, in a twist worthy of Shakespeare, the bankrupt fighter looks to retire the plum promoter in his place.

"It's a character fight," says Dale Kinsella, the lead attorney for Tyson. "A lot of fighters have sued Don over the years, and a win for Mike could mean sweet justice."

But so far, the trial of all trials, like so many hyped promotions in boxing, has been only a tease. Lawyers were to begin picking jurors for the case last September and now, after a number of bizarre events that have plagued Tyson since he checked out of the Peninsula last spring, it's unclear when Tyson's day in court may come. A new trial date has tentatively been scheduled for the third week of April or until the depths of Tyson's financial morass have been navigated and untangled.

But making sense of Tyson's earnings and spontaneous spending sprees could take a while, and already Tyson seems to have lost interest in the merits of his claims. He rarely calls his lawyers. He seems detached and resigned. Asked about his chances in court, Tyson told me recently, "I don't really know nothing about that, man. That's something that I be handling in a totally different arena."

Unlike the fighter, King has been following the case against Tyson at every turn. An avid reader of Shakespeare's tragedies, King's favorite tome is The Merchant of Venice, he says, a tale of revenge, money lending and betrayal. He understands the reversal-of-fortune plot line that lays ahead in the case. He insists he isn't worried.

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