San Francisco Examiner
February 4, 1981 - p. A5
Phone caller's strange tale of boxing promotion, bank fraud
LOS ANGELES (AP) A man identified as a boxing promoter who was named by Wells Fargo Bank in a $21.3 million civil embezzlement suit says that as much as $300 million, 35 bank officials and 20 banks may be involved in the purported fraud.
The man called radio station KABC, which identified him as Harold J. Smith, 37, chairman of Muhammad Ali Professional Sports Inc.
The caller denied that he or MAPS were responsible for any missing funds. He also said that bank officials wanted to kill him and his family and said telling his story would put his life in danger.
"My family is safe now and I've come back to fight. I'm a fighter," the caller said on KABC's Radio Sports Talk program yesterday. Sportscaster Bud Furillo said he believed the caller was Smith.
Wells Fargo Chairman Richard P. Cooley in San Francisco called the claims of life threats from bank officials, fraud in the hundreds of millions and involvement of several bank officials "preposterous."
"Since the stealing of funds came to light Jan. 23, an internal investigation has proceeded 'round the clock," he said. "We have determined the loss will not exceed $21.3 million and all but $1 million is covered by insurance.
"Bank depositors and bank customers are not affected by this in any way," he added.
The purported fraud came to light when Wells Fargo began an internal investagion after an employee noticed "an irregularity," according to Wells Fargo Vice President George Caulfield. He said the money had been siphoned from two branches, and the key to the embezzlement was that it involved a bank officer who also served as a MAPS official.
MAPS has no connection with boxing champion Muhammad Ali other than the use of his name for a fee. Since allegations of embezzlement surfaced last week, Ali has asked that his name be dropped.
Among the defendants is L. Ben Lewis, a MAPS director and loan officer at Wells Fargo's Beverly Hills branch, who left the bank Jan. 23 after 11 years and who is missing.
Smith, also a defendant in the suit, dropped from sight a week ago. The caller said in the radio interview that he had taken his family to safety in Switzerland and he would return here today to fight the accusations.
"I'm doing all right now that my family's all right," he said. "I had to leave under gunfire. I know they're going to try to stop me because they tried to kill me and my family before I left."
Asked by Furillo whom he meant by "they," the caller said: "You can start at . . . Wells Fargo Bank. This thing involves bank officials.
"We're not talking about $20 million . . . What I've learned is that there are two or three hundred million dollars involved . . . over a period of time, over eight years."
He said the alleged embezzlement "is going to reach at least 15 bank managers and about 20 different officers and about 20 different banks.
"We were used as pigeons," he said.
The caller did not identify himself on the air or say where he was calling from.
"I'm sure it was him (Smith)," Furillo said later.
The New York Times said it also received a telephone call from a man it was sure was Smith. In addition to making similar charges, he was quoted as saying bank officials at one point had kidnapped his 4-year-old son and would kill him "for what I can tell."
"I may not be alive in two days . . . When I tell it, there's going to be the biggest run on Wells Fargo than on any bank you ever saw," the man told the Times.
He said armed men had come to his home, took his son John and held him for a week, "making me promise to leave the country, which I did." The boy was returned and the family was now safe, he said.
He told the Times he became suspicious when he noticed several unauthorized debits on his accounts and accused the "Japanese Mafia" of being behind the scheme. He also said state auditors were involved.
None of those named in the suit was being sought, according to the FBI.
"We're still at the bank," said FBI spokesman John Hoos. "That's where the main thrust of our investigation is. We're going over the records . . . (to find) how did it occur, how much was taken."
The Wells Fargo suit contends $21 million was embezzled from the bank by some MAPS officials and asks that the sports promoters replace the funds.