NEW YORK -- Don King's lawyer continued yesterday to question the credibility of a crucial government witness in the promoter's federal mail fraud trial.
Joseph Maffia, King's former controller, has testified in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that King told him to falsify training expenses for Julio Cesar Chavez in order to make an allegedly fraudulent $350,000 insurance claim when an injury to Chavez forced the cancellation of his fight against Harold Brazier on June 28, 1991.
Maffia said King directed him to pad the claim in order to recover part of a $736,000 advance the promoter made to Chavez on March 18, 1991.
Peter Fleming Jr., King's lawyer, played a tape of a telephone call Maffia made to King in May 1992, eight months after being forced to resign.
The call began with the usually low-key Maffia loudly threatening physical violence. "Do you understand this?" he shouted.
King apparently did not recognize Maffia's voice and sounded confused.
"Is this my dear friend?" he said. "My landsman?"
After Maffia repeated his threat, King said, "Landsman? Landsman?"
"Who the hell do you think this is?" Maffia shouted.
"I don't know," King said.
To Fleming, Maffia said: "I just wanted to yell at him."
Maffia told Paul Gardephe, the assistant U.S. attorney, that he was angry at King for challenging his claim for unemployment benefits, seeking to revoke his state accountant's license and for an unspecified personal matter.
One point of great personal contention between the men, writes Jack Newfield in "Only in America," a new biography of King, was their involvement with the same woman. (Earlier, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence McKenna ruled that notes of conversations between Newfield and Maffia revealed "no evidence or impeachment material" that could be used by King's defense team.)
The defense wants to portray Maffia as an unreliable former employee -- one who wanted to be a promoter himself -- who is lashing out at King. Playing the tape was one strategy, but Fleming also tried to impeach him by eliciting vague and contradictory answers from the accountant.
An important element of King's defense is that the $736,000 advance against Chavez's next purse was insured under a $750,000 policy obtained by Maffia.
But Maffia told Fleming that advances were not insurable.
Asked if he had told King that the $736,000 was not insurable under the policy, Maffia said, "No, I did not." He added: "We did not insure the $736,000, so I did not tell him." Maffia said Tuesday that he found only about $150,000 in claimable expenses.