The embattled International Boxing Federation suffered another blow Wednesday when a federal judge in Newark, N.J., appointed a monitor to oversee its operations, the first time such legal measures have been taken against an American sports organization.
Government stewardship has historically been employed against mob-tainted labor unions. In this case, U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell gave the monitor--New Jersey attorney Joseph Hayden Jr.--authority to supervise everything the IBF does, from bookkeeping to the selection of judges and ranking of boxers.
"It really is a sweeping victory for us," said U.S. Atty. Robert Cleary, whose Newark office is pursuing criminal and civil cases against the IBF. The federal prosecutor characterized the ruling as something that "will make people in the boxing world sit up and take notice."
No one in the IBF--one of boxing's three major governing bodies--could be reached for comment. Its attorney previously had argued against the need for a monitor.
The 17-year-old federation came under intensified scrutiny last March after the first heavyweight championship bout between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. The fight ended in a draw and an IBF-appointed judge, who scored in favor of Holyfield, was heavily criticized.
But Wednesday's appointment resulted from an unrelated, two-year government investigation. The probe focused not on judging but the way in which boxers are ranked.
Last November, IBF President Robert Lee Sr. and three of his top executives--including his son, Robert Jr.--were indicted on federal racketeering charges, accused of taking $338,000 in bribes to manipulate those rankings.
Prosecutors allege that IBF officials routinely solicited and accepted payments of between $1,000 and $25,000 to give boxers a better standing and, thus, a better shot at big-money bouts. Other times, they allegedly twisted the rankings to benefit titleholders.
In one such incident, in 1995, the defendants received $100,000 from George Foreman's promoter, according to federal documents and a source close to the investigation. In return, Foreman was allowed to bypass quality opponents and defend his heavyweight title against previously unranked Axel Schulz.
Lee has called the allegations "outrageous." The 65-year-old executive recently took a leave of absence from the IBF to focus on defending himself against criminal charges and the accompanying civil suit.
Prosecutors insist they have "ample evidence" including videotapes that show Lee taking bribes.
The indictment concealed the identities of seven promoters and managers who allegedly made payments on behalf of 23 unnamed boxers. But earlier this week, Bissell agreed to unseal some of the government's evidence in response to a motion by The Times.
The evidence is expected to become public by early next week.
In the meantime, Hayden immediately assumes his new role and is expected to attend IBF executive meetings and examine the federation's records until the resolution of the criminal case. His appointment came as something of a surprise in that Bissell had expressed some skepticism about the idea at a recent hearing.
In asking for a monitor, prosecutors had invoked the 20-year-old Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
While granting their request, Bissell did not give Hayden power to issue subpoenas, which prosecutors had sought. The judge also did not choose the government's initial candidate for the job, Zachary Carter, the former U.S. Attorney for Brooklyn.
Still, Cleary praised Bissell's choice.
"Joe Hayden is a heavyweight in the legal community, to borrow a phrase," Cleary said. "He is a man of uncompromising integrity and has a good business sense."
Hayden is married to U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, who sits in the same courthouse as Bissell. It is not known if he has any experience with, or knowledge of, boxing.