Bloomberg News

Boxing Champion Michael Spinks Sues Former Promoter’s Estate

October 14, 2011

(Updates with details from lawsuit starting in eighth paragraph.)

Oct. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Ex-heavyweight boxing champion Michael Spinks sued the estate of his former promoter, Ronald E. “Butch” Lewis, alleging Lewis failed to properly manage millions of dollars Spinks earned in his career and violated agreements to continue paying the boxer’s living expenses.

Lewis, who died this year, commingled his personal funds with Spinks’s money and used the boxer’s winnings to pay personal and business expenses for himself and his children, Spinks said in a Delaware Chancery Court lawsuit. The suit also names Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, as a defendant. Johnson serves as one of the executors of Lewis’s $8.5 million estate, according to court filings.

“Lewis’s estate has refused to honor Lewis’s promise and has failed to pay any of Spinks’s living expenses,” the boxer’s lawyers said in the suit, filed yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware.

Neither Johnson, head of a real estate investment firm, nor Leonard L. Williams, a Wilmington-based lawyer, immediately returned calls for comment on Spinks’s suit.

Lewis, 65, died at his home in Bethany Beach, Delaware, in July. A former used car salesman in Philadelphia, Lewis rose to become one of the boxing world’s top dealmakers in the late 1970s and 1980s, according to the New York Times. He represented both Michael and Leon Spinks, two brothers who each won gold medals in the 1976 Olympic Games.

World Champion

Michael Spinks won the heavyweight boxing championship in 1985 when he defeated Larry Holmes to win the title. He lost the title in 1988 to Mike Tyson in a 91-second knockout. Spinks retired at age 32.

Lewis negotiated “substantial paydays” for Spinks over the course of his career, racking up a more than $24 million in revenue, according to the suit. Lewis agreed to manage Spinks’s money for him and pay his living expenses for the rest of his life, lawyers said in the complaint.

The month after Lewis’s death, Johnson and Williams cut off payments of Spinks’s living expenses without telling him, the boxer’s lawyers said. That move caused Spinks’s health insurance to lapse, they added. Those bills totaled as much as $50,000 a month, according to the filing.

“Spinks has had to invade his pension and retirement funds and incur significant taxes and penalties in order to meet these obligations,” the boxer’s lawyers added in the filings.

Spinks contends Lewis left millions to his children in his will and the promoter spent $500,000 on a party a month before his death. The boxer is asking a judge to bar Johnson and Williams from transferring any assets of the Lewis’s estate until there can be a full accounting and to order the executors to resume paying Spinks’s living expenses.

Former NBA Owner

Johnson is the head of RLJ Development LLC, a closely held real estate investment company based in Bethesda, Maryland. He sold his stake in BET to Viacom in 2001 for about $3 billion.

The billionaire also once owned the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Bobcats. He sold his majority interest in the team to former NBA superstar Michael Jordan in 2010.

The case is Michael Spinks v. the Estate of Ronald E. “Butch” Lewis, 6931, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington).

--With assistance from Michael Bathon in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Fred Strasser

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Wilmington, Delaware, at jfeeley@bloomberg.net; Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware, at pmilford@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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