NYSAC under fire: The Inspector General’s investigation – Part III
This is the third in a five-part series on the Inspector General of the State of New York’s investigation of the New York State Athletic Commission. Click here for part I and part II.
The New York Secretary of State’s office, which is responsible for overseeing the New York State Athletic Commission, began an audit of the commission’s practices in 2012. Executive Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Giardina later told the Inspector General’s office that the audit report “noted several deficiencies in the commission’s operations.”
That’s an understatement.
It’s hard for good people to perform well when they’re in a poorly managed system.
Glenn Alleyne is the NYSAC’s community coordinator. He was interviewed by the Inspector General’s office on Dec. 6, 2013, and the following exchange occurred.
Q: In your view, do Ralph Petrillo [the NYSAC director of boxing at that time] and the chair [Melvina Lathan] do the work that they’re supposed to do?
Q: Let’s start with the chair. How often, on average, to your knowledge, does she actually come in?
Alleyne: I think she does four days a week
Q: To your knowledge, is her job a five-day-a-week job?
Alleyne: Her responsibilities are – what she is asked to do is five-day-a-week work. Before I took over the licensing function, I did a great deal of the reporting and stuff that she was supposed to be doing. So yes, it’s a five-day-a-week job in its constitution as a full-time job.
Q: What about Ralph Petrillo. Does he come in five days a week?
Q: Approximately how often does he come in?
Alleyne: Up till two or three months ago, three days a week. Three to four.
Q: Given that the chair and Mr. Petrillo don’t come in all the time, do you see problems stemming from that? The work not getting done, first of all.
Alleyne: The problems from that are more the unavailability to handle what they need to handle. They don’t actually do any hands-on moving-parts work. But there is work that can’t – the chair takes the mail. She gets the mail. And when she’s not there, she locks her door so we can’t get the mail. There are things that Ralph Petrillo needs to approve to start the whole process of us doing what we need to do. When he’s not there, he’s not available, that’s not possible. And for those, those being Eric [Bentley] and I, who have to try to stay in front of what we get, that becomes a problem. Right now, the commission is Eric Bentley because he makes sure the work gets done. The work that I do is money, it’s ledgering, it’s reconciling. And the shows would go on if what I did didn’t happen or occurred incorrectly. Everybody would go to jail afterwards, but it wouldn’t affect the shows happening. But the shows would not happen without what he [Bentley] does. All of the mechanics, the actual mechanics of doing the work product of the commission, is now riding on one person.
Bentley is highly respected within the boxing community. At the time in question, he was charged with coordinating medical data for the commission.
“I stopped going to the shows,” Bentley told the Inspector General’s office on Dec. 3, 2013. “If I’m asked to go because they need extra hands there, I’ll go. But I stopped going to the shows.
Q: Any particular reason?
Bentley: Several particular reasons. First and foremost, I don’t like the way things are handled at the shows. I kind of feel like [Deputy Commissioner] Robert Orlando is stuck doing all the work, while everyone else is just there for a dog and pony show and they just want to sit there at the ring and not take ownership of anything. And I feel like it’s not very fair. It wouldn’t surprise me that, if at an event, things were to get a little mishandled. So I thought it would be best, unless I’m asked to go, to just not go to the shows anymore, until there is some sort of change implemented or some sort of more effective manner of running the shows. Felix Figueroa [then chief inspector] usually handles the back [the dressing room area], and he’s very good from what I’ve seen. Keith Sullivan is pretty good. I know he doesn’t get to go to the shows as often, but he seems to be pretty thorough. But I know who handles the day-to-day at the office and who does what work. And I know the people that go to the events don’t really do much work around the office. So I just figured it was a matter of time for something to blow up in our face.
Q: What about Ms. Lathan? Does she do any of the day-to-day work?
Bentley: She says she does.
Q: What does she say she does?
Bentley: She says [she’s] always got reports that she’s doing and she’s always got meetings, and I’ve never seen these reports and I haven’t seen too many meetings.
Bentley added, “There is probably going to be some sort of fall guy. I just want to make sure that the right outcome occurs. I feel like the entire Commission needs a reorg. I think responsibilities need to be altered. Certain people should have less responsibilities. Certain people should have more responsibilities. I want to make sure that the right people are held accountable for all the stuff that’s gone wrong, not just this event [Abdusalamov vs. Perez], but the last two or three years.”
Over time, the Inspector General’s office became painfully aware that proper procedures and protocols either were not in place at the NYSAC or were not being followed. As Glenn Alleyne testified, “The commission is not a procedurally-correct driven entity. We have specific rules and regulations. Those are not always how we operate.”
For example, as made clear in interview transcripts, portions of NYSAC fight night medical forms regarding urine samples were often filled out in advance of fights. In that regard, the following exchange between Lathan and the Inspector General’s staff took place.
Q: Commissioner, let me tell you, we’ve talked to your medical coordinator, and what he tells us is that he fills out step 2 in advance. So in other words, the forms are given to the inspector with step 2 already filled in.
Lathan: Really? He can’t do step 2 [an affirmation that the temperature of the urine taken from the fighter was within an appropriate range].
Q: It’s a problem. We have testimony that step 2 is completed by your medical coordinator.
Lathan: Is that right?
Lathan: Oh, that shouldn’t be. That can’t be.
Q: Yes, it creates a problem for the chain of custody and also for the validity of the test; am I right?
Lathan: I didn’t know that.
Q: You’ve never looked at the forms before you’ve handed them out?
Lathan: Well, no, I’ve not really looked at them.
There was also evidence that urine samples taken from fighters were mishandled.
Matt Farrago testified before the Inspector General’s office that, when he brought Abdusalamov’s post-fight urine sample to the commission office, the office was unlocked and unattended. He put the sample in an unlocked bag that contained other urine samples taken that night.
Abdulsalamov’s sample, like the other samples, was in a sealed envelope. “It could be tampered with,” Farrago told investigators. “But you’d know it was tampered with.”
And of course, samples could have been removed from the bag.
Q: There was nobody watching this bag. Is that correct?
Farrago: That’s correct.
Similar testimony was elicited by the Inspector General’s office from Lathan.
Q: I’m concerned. I want the chain of custody of the urine samples.
Q: So once the urine samples are collected, they’re going to be brought to that room, correct?
Lathan: That’s correct.
Q: In terms of the chain of custody, somebody should have to be there to make sure there is no tampering with the samples. Am I right?
Lathan: Well, it’s locked. It’s in a locked container. So nobody else has access to it except the person with the key.
Q: You’re talking about the valise or bag that it was –
Q: Is that ever left unattended?
Lathan: Ideally it would not be, but I’m sure that it has been. I can’t say that it’s been watched every moment. That wouldn’t be realistic.
Q: But if somebody was not in the room, if the room was left unattended, would the door be locked?
Lathan: The door would be closed.
Q: But is it your policy that that room always has somebody in it?
Q: Do you know if that happened on the night of Mago’s fight, that it was constantly manned?
Lathan: You know, I would be about 99.8 percent sure that somebody was there at all times. This particular night, we had twenty-four extra officials because we had a separate set for each title fight. We had like thirty-two, thirty-three officials in one night in one place. I’m not absolutely sure, but I can be almost sure that somebody was always in that room.
Q: But in terms of the actual protocols for the evening, nobody is assigned to be in that room to make sure that somebody from the commission is there at all times?
That’s poor management. And just as bad, on the night Abdusalamov suffered his injuries, the commission neglected to take a mandatory post-fight urine sample from his opponent, Mike Perez.
Eric Bentley brought that matter to the attention of the Inspector General’s office.
Bentley: When I came in on Tuesday [three days after the fight], I went to my office and realized the show folder wasn’t there. When I went to get the show folder from Ralph’s office [Ralph Petrillo], I noticed there was a urine form [that hadn’t been filled out] on his desk, and I assumed it was Magomed’s. I just assumed he went right to the hospital and couldn’t give a post-fight urine. [Then] I spoke to Robert Orlando, and he’s like, “Yes, [Ernesto] Rodriguez told me he fucked up” – he didn’t use the word “fuck” – “he forgot to take the urine.” It’s just dumb, it’s ignorant. If you have a job to do, you do it one hundred percent. That’s a reflection of leadership and the way they were trained, and that is probably the biggest issue that I hope you guys figure out when this is all said and done.
Ernesto Rodriguez was then interviewed by the Inspector General’s office:
Q Who did the post-fight urinalysis?
Rodriguez: I have no idea.
Q: Is that usual that someone else would do it?
Rodriguez: Unfortunately, no. I was supposed to do it.
Q: What happened?
Rodriguez: I don’t know. I didn’t know it because all fights are not required to have post-fight urinalysis. Championship fights are, and I didn’t do it. I actually went to watch the fight [Gennady Golovkin vs Curtis Stevens in the main event] and forgot completely about it.
Q: Did you get any feedback?
Rodriguez: Tuesday when I talked to Ralph [Petrillo]. It was Tuesday or Monday. I’m not sure. Ralph called me.
Q: And what did Ralph say to you?
Rodriguez: Not too many kind words. He said, “What happened that you didn’t do the post-fight?” And I said, “Ralph, I messed up. I thought – I didn’t know – I forgot it was a championship bout. I wanted to get out of there.” And then I think he said, “You know, this can be a problem.”
Q: Why didn’t you take it? Is it your testimony today that you completely forgot about taking the urinalysis?
Rodriguez: Yes, sir.
Q: But on the night of event, nobody mentions to you, where’s the urine sample? The first you hear is a couple days later?
Ralph Petrillo was direct with Rodriguez regarding the inspector’s failure to take a post-fight urine sample from Perez. He was less direct with the Inspector General’s office. Thus, the following exchange, which occurred on May 1, 2014.
Q: You were specifically asked about urine [during your Nov. 14, 2013, interview] and how the urine is handled and urine tests and so forth and how it’s done. Is there a reason why you didn’t mention on November 14th that there was a missing urine test from that very bout?
Petrillo: No, no reason. No reason why I didn’t mention it.
Q: But you were in front of the IG’s office talking about that particular incident and what the procedures are for urine testing, and you did not bother to mention to the IG that, by the way, there was a missing urine sample.
Petrillo: Which one was missing?
Q: The last [sample] after Magomed and Perez
Petrillo: Sometimes we don’t do that.
Q: It was a title fight.
Petrillo: It doesn’t matter. The post-fight urine is just street drugs. If I have an inspector there that for, now it’s two o’clock in the morning and this guy can’t go, maybe he’s dehydrated, whatever the reason is. Listen, if the inspector wants to stay there, they stay there. If they don’t, I don’t blame them for not staying there. They make $52 a night, I wouldn’t stay there.
A: I just thought it odd because you’re coming to the IG’s office. We’re asking about procedures. We’re very interested in the Magomed-Perez fight. And this is not mentioned at all by you when you’re here on November 14th.
The NYSAC’s problems also extended to its medical advisory board. Barry Jordan (the commission’s chief medical officer) told the Inspector General’s office, “I’ve had no influence in terms of who’s on the board. Reason why, in the past, I would try and make suggestions because we’ve always been trying to make the sport as safe as possible. And I think it’s important that the medical advisory board members know something about sports medicine and hopefully know something about boxing. But sometimes, since it’s a political appointment, you may have a physician who doesn’t know anything about boxing at all.”
Then Dr. Jordan was asked, “Do you know if they receive any training while they’re on the board.”
“No,” he answered. “They don’t.”
“The weakest part of what we currently do is post-event,” Glenn Alleyne told investigators. “Post-event would have to be all about going over what went wrong at the event, going over what could be done better next time. We don’t do any of that.”
In that regard, Dr. Jordan was asked, “Has the medical advisory board convened since the Mago fight?”
“No,” he answered.
That question was put to Dr. Jordan on April 2, 2014, five months after the Abdusalamov-Perez fight.
The more the Inspector General’s office probed, the more it found.
Lathan acknowledged to investigators on April 28, 2014, that she had received a pair of earrings from someone who did business with the commission but couldn’t remember the donor’s name.
Q: Do you have any idea of the value of the gift you received?
Lathan: No, I don’t.
Q: When was that?
Lathan: About three years ago.
Q: How was it delivered to you?
Lathan: It was wrapped, gift-wrapped.
Q: Somebody physically gave it to you?
Q: Who was that? You don’t know? You’re shaking your head. Meaning no?
Lathan: Meaning I don’t know.
On May 2, 2014, Kenneth Michaels (investigative counsel for the Inspector General’s office) had a follow-up telephone conversation with Lathan. His written notes of that conversation read in part as follows: “I referred to jewelry that she had previously testified, on April 28, that she had received as a gift, and asked her to bring the jewelry to the Inspector General’s Office so we could evaluate it. She said she could not as she had given it away (to whom she did not say). She said that she had not received the jewelry from a promoter, as had been previously discussed; it was from a guy who was part of a ‘crew’ working with and trying to learn to be a promoter; he was ‘hanging around’ with the promoter. The promoter, she noted, had only brought a cake.”
In that same conversation, Michaels’ memorandum noted, “Lathan complained that she had felt railroaded at her recent interview.” The memorandum goes on to state, “Lathan asked if I thought there had been any criminal activity. I pointed out that we were in the middle of an investigation, and this was like asking who had won a ten-round boxing match in the fifth round. She responded with words to the effect of, ‘But you know who’s winning.'”
Then, in a June 4, 2014, session with investigators, Lathan retracted her admission.
Lathan: I just want you to know that the last testimony about promoters and gifts, not.
Q: Not what?
Lathan: Not. I got no gifts from a promoter. Absolutely not.
Q: Didn’t you tell us at one point that you got some earrings?
Lathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I thought that’s what had happened, but it’s not true. Not true at all. Absolutely not.
One of many problems with that testimony was that, six weeks earlier, the Inspector General’s office had interviewed Madeline Brady, the former director of licensing for the New York State Athletic Commission. Brady acknowledged having received a necklace from a promoter, which she brought to the interview and turned over to the Inspector General’s office. She then told investigators, “At the same time, Melvina and Ralph [Petrillo] got something. At the time, I didn’t know [what] because they didn’t open it in front of me. A subsequent conversation that I was part of, they were comparing notes. Ralph had gotten earrings for his wife. And Melvina, if I remember correctly, she got a watch.”
Brady was also asked about free tickets that Lathan and Petrillo might have received from promoters and the following exchange occurred.
Brady: For the big fights, there would be a credential list that was sent to Madison Square Garden or to Barclays Center. That used to be my job. That got taken away. It was as if she [Melvina] didn’t want me to know who was going and who wasn’t.
Q: Was there a reason for that?
Brady: I would say, “Why does this person have to go?”
Q: In other words, you questioned Melvina?
Brady: Yeah, and then you stop questioning when she tells you to mind your own business.
Q: Is that what she did?
Q: In those words?
Q: Was there ever a situation where friends or relatives were credentialed? Friends or relatives of commissioners or office staff to go to particular bouts?
Q: Or permitted to come under the auspices of the athletic commission?
Brady: I know that, after a weigh-in when I determined the color of the wristbands and I was leaving for the night, I always gave Melvina and Ralph five to ten wristbands each. What they did with them, I don’t know. If they gave them out, those people weren’t necessarily sitting ringside but it got them entry.
Q: Entry to the arena?
Brady: Now at Madison Square Garden, that couldn’t be done because Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center issued their own entries and we would have to get a list. For those events, I have seen family members in high-priced-ticket seats. I can’t say with certainty that they weren’t paid for. My gut tells me they weren’t. You know, Ralph or Melvina’s family are sitting in the $400 seats and there are four of them.
The Inspector General’s office also found itself in the middle of a sniping war between Lathan and John Signorile (who was appointed to the NYSAC as a commissioner by New York governor Andrew Cuomo).
Lathan complained in her testimony that Signorile told her he was going to take her job. Tom Santino, who Signorile replaced as a commissioner, complained that Signorile lobbied to have him removed from the commission so he could replace him.
Signorile, for his part, told investigators, “When I go to the events, I’m treated very poorly and put to the side. And when I asked the chairwoman one day, I went to her office and I asked her, ‘What do you need me to do at the events?’ she replied, ‘Just be a figurehead and sit there.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ I said, ‘I would like to sit up front at the table. The previous commissioners sat up front at the table.’ She replied, ‘We don’t think that’s a good idea.’ I said, ‘Who are we?’ She said ‘We.’ So I just nodded my head and went on my way. I’m not treated very well. I’m not welcome because I’m a threat. She assumes I’m looking for her job. She has discredited me to all the officials that I grew up with from the amateurs, telling them, ‘He’s after my job, he’s after my job.'”
Later in the questioning, Signorile was asked why he hadn’t attended the fight card at Madison Square Garden on the night that Abdusalamov was injured.
“It’s a little bit of a hostile environment for me,” Signoirile answered. “I go in there, and all of my friends are afraid to associate with me, the officials that are my friends through the amateurs and the professionals because, if you associate with me, guess what, you’re probably not going to get the coming title fight or you’ll get a poor assignment. You’ll get that Star Catering Hall with all four-rounders and a couple pro debuts.”
Signorile also volunteered the information that, “The chairwoman has a parking permit that says New York State Athletic Commission doctor on call – she’s not a doctor – so she can park [where she wants]. A placard in the window.”
Glenn Alleyne summed things up nicely when he told the Inspector General’s office, “We don’t have what you would consider a classic managerial presence.” And New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales stated the obvious when he acknowledged to investigators, “The commission is not as well run as it should be.”
Thus the question: How should the problems be fixed?
Part Four of “The New York State Inspector General’s Investigation” will be posted on this site tomorrow.
Click here for part I and part II of “The New York State Inspector General’s Investigation”.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book (A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press