They’re all fixing matches: former American mob boss (With Image)June 17th, 2009 - 3:35 pm ICT by IANS
By Murali Krishnan
Coventry (England), June 17 (IANS) Few sports are beyond the reach of organised crime, says Michael Franzese, a former American mob boss, who for almost 20 years presided over a criminal empire spanning gambling, loan sharking, movie production and more.
At the peak of his criminal career, Franzese was making upwards of $6-8 million a week and even featured in Fortune magazine’s “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses” list in the mid-1980’s. But after three racketeering indictments, $15 million in fines and restitutions, countless legal fees and a 10-year federal prison sentence, Franzese says he gave it all up.
Now, Franzese, 58, is in a new role as motivational speaker and is a man on a mission - lecturing professionals, student athletes, sportsmen and organisations on the dangers of match fixing.
“I can tell you this. There’s a major problem in sport. If you think there isn’t, you’re kidding yourself,” he said. “Are they doing it (match fixing)? You better believe they are,” said Franzese while addressing journalists and sports professionals in his first ever overseas speech at the 2009 Play the Game conference in Coventry.
Speaking to IANS exclusively later, Franzese explains he was asked by the Association of Tennis Players (ATP) in 2007 to lecture players about the methods that are used to spread corruption and says gamblers are influencing top-level tennis matches.
“It’s definitely going on. If I were in this business now, tennis would be my major target because one player can impact the game. That’s all you need.”
According to Franzese, the practice of fixing US sports events was much more common today than it was in the past, partially because of the increased legality of gambling.
“I spent 17 years on the street dealing in this business. We certainly did target athletes, we certainly did have athletes gambling with us and at times we forced them to compromise the outcome of a game when they couldn’t pay a debt.”
Bookmakers linked to organised crime routinely encourage sports players to get into debt, he said, and high rates of interest are charged when credit is extended. And athletes rarely decline the opportunity to clear their spiralling debts, which can sometimes total millions of dollars.
“These guys have a tendency to gamble,” he revealed. “It is bigger with sports stars than anyone else.”
Franzese is unaware of the betting syndicates and potential match-fixers in cricket as the game is not so popular in the US.
“But I guess now that the US has been given a wild card entry in the next Twenty20 championships, it will be interesting days ahead.”
“Athletes are often simply asked to cover a spread bet, as opposed to throw a match, adding: “While a key player in a US football or basketball game may not be able to change a result, he is usually able to ensure that a winning or losing margin is less than 10 points.”
Even the National Football League (NFL), says Franzese, which is the largest professional American football league in the world, is suspect. “NFL referees are also very susceptible. A referee understands the spread, and can get away with giving certain decisions”.
Boxing is another sport that is often fixed. “We had fighters that we owned. [Don] King was someone we were able to deal with,” he said.
He said, “If you can make money on it (sport), it is not immune. We would fix a game of chess if there was money to be made.”
(Murali Krishnan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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