"See how these old-timers will turn back the hands of time," declares the big, bright poster advertising a night of exhibition boxing matches June 5 in East Baltimore. "See these greats defy the laws of geriatrics."
It would be a friendly gathering of aging boxers, a few Block bouncers, guys that could-have-been and should-have-been, palookas fighting to get back from Palookaville, if only for one night. They even invited Baltimore's most famous Boogie. All for charity, too.
It sounds sweet. Downright Runyonesque.
Except it probably won't happen -- not as originally planned, anyway.
The Maryland Athletic Commission has told the fights' organizers that fighting by old-timers -- that is, boxers over the age of 36 -- is not allowed in this state. In addition, the commission won't sanction a fight unless its promoter is licensed, unless doctors are at ringside, unless all fighters undergo a physical examination, an eye test and a neurological evaluation.
After hearing all this at a meeting with the Maryland Athletic Commission on Friday, John DiRossi, the director of the little-known charity that would have benefited from the $50-a-person event, said he would pull out of the benefit and reimburse money to everyone who purchased tickets from him. Others involved in the event, however, were still holding out the chance the show would go on. A final decision will be made tomorrow.
DiRossi, the 60-year-old director of the United Society of the Handicapped, might be willing to excuse himself from the event because promotion of it has brought something he didn't bargain for: Questions about his charity and his background.
DiRossi's other name is Charles W. Tipton. He says he changed his name to DiRossi in 1954, but he has appeared as Tipton on court papers for years, and as recently as last fall. DiRossi is presently awaiting sentencing on federal cocaine-smuggling charges.
In late January in U.S. District Court, he pleaded guilty to two counts of a five-count federal indictment charging him, as Tipton, with conspiring with an East Baltimore businessman to import cocaine into the United States from South America. When he and a co-defendant were arrested, federal agents estimated the street value of the cocaine they seized in the case at $200,000, according to court records.
Tipton, or DiRossi, lives on Albemarle Street in Little Italy. He says he formed the United Society of the Handicapped four years ago, after his release from a prison in Rahway, N.J., with the hopes of bringing some cheer into the lives of lonely elderly residents of nursing homes. With his own money, DiRossi says, he purchased birthday cards and holiday greeting cards and mailed them to nursing home residents "who have outlived their friends and families." He says he also has obtained equipment, such as wheelchairs, for disabled elderly and children.
In three separate interviews with this columnist, DiRossi was adamant that his charity is legitimate, describing it as a personal crusade for which he never wanted a lot of publicity. He said the boxing matches would have represented the first formal attempt to raise money for the United Society of the Handicapped.
DiRossi at first implored this columnist not to report his guilty plea in the cocaine conspiracy, saying it would jeopardize his organization and the boxing matches. He said he did not want to humiliate his old friends, many of whom did not know of his recent troubles with the law when they purchased tickets to the event at Tiffany's East, a catering hall on East Lombard Street.
"I've done some nice things for people," DiRossi said. "But I'd rather not be public. I don't want the notoriety. People say, 'He can BS the press, he can BS a reporter, but he can't BS me.' Now I'll just stay in the background."
DiRossi said that, until now, he has operated the charity "out of my own pocket." He said he would not keep one donated dime for his personal use.
"This isn't a scheme to rip somebody off," he said. "If you really knew me, you'd know I wasn't about ripping somebody off. . . . When I got out of prison, I wanted to do something good, to put something back in society. I wanted to retire away from criminality."
He said any profit from the boxing matches would go to the Easter Seal Society of Maryland. He said he already mailed a check for $500 to that organization.
Susan Bradford, director of development for the Easter Seal Society, acknowledged receipt of the check, but said it arrived with a provision that it not be cashed until after the June fund-raiser.