NEW YORK – Mike Tyson's taking another beating, but not in the ring or the tabloids.
Instead, witnesses in an obscure racketeering case have linked the once-feared boxer to talk of two murder schemes in his old neighborhood. They claim he bankrolled one. In the other, Tyson himself was considered a potential target, but was spared for religious reasons.
Tyson has vehemently denied knowing anything about the mayhem surrounding a ruthless drug gang at the center of the case. But his name was dropped several times during recent testimony at the trial of an alleged getaway driver in two slayings.
At closing arguments on Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Haran reminded jurors that the "evidence was that Mike Tyson put up $50,000 to kill" two men. Meanwhile, defense attorney Richard Levitt cautioned that the witness who described the Tyson murder-for-hire plot, like other unsavory cooperators in the case, "is unquestionably a liar."
Tyson has issued a statement calling the accounts "totally untrue." He said he was "tired of people throwing my name around."
Deliberations at the federal trial in Brooklyn were expected to begin on Tuesday.
Tyson's name emerged during an investigation of the Cash Money Brothers, a crew of thugs led by brothers Damion "World" Hardy and Myron "Wise" Hardy. The gang, which lifted its name from the film "New Jack City," had turned a Bedford-Stuyvesant housing project into a violent drug market, prosecutors said.
Federal authorities cracked down in 2004, charging several men in a racketeering indictment with multiple counts of murder, kidnapping, drug dealing and gun possession. Some later pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the government against Abubakr Raheem, the reputed wheelman, and World, who faces the death penalty at separate trial later this year.
Raheem has denied the charges. He admits he knew the killers, but as a Muslim, didn't approve of them.
"Was he at peace with them? Absolutely not," his attorney said Monday.
Prosecutors scoffed at Raheem's claims that he'd sought to steer the men toward Islam.
"He's sort of the spiritual adviser to perhaps the most dangerous group of gangsters in the city," Haran said.
Authorities have alleged that Wise's killing in 1999 sparked a bloodbath on the streets of Bed-Stuy. Among those killed: Tyson's friend and bodyguard, Darryl "Homicide" Baum.
At trial, a turncoat gangster testified after learning Baum was gunned down in 2000, Tyson put out a $50,000 contract on World. Asked why, the cooperator responded that the boxer "was close friends with Homicide."
A crew associate also took the stand and described how, after word of the boxer's bounty spread, he overheard the gangsters saying Tyson needed to be rubbed out.
"I said, that's outrageous," the witness recalled.
Later, the same witness said, he and Raheem were with a group of men who spotted a blue Range Rover they believed was carrying Tyson. One of the men wanted to take the opportunity to kill the boxer, but the idea "was squashed right there" because "Mike Tyson was a Muslim," the witness said.
In 1986, a 20-year-old Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion when he knocked out Trevor Berbick. He lost his title four years later, knocked out by James "Buster" Douglas. By 1997, Tyson's career hit a low when he bit Evander Holyfield's ear during a fight and since has been pummeled with legal and financial problems.
Tyson interrupted his training in a 2000 comeback bout in Scotland so he could attend Baum's funeral in Brooklyn. He won his fight against heavyweight Lou Savarese in 38 seconds and dedicated the victory to the dead bodyguard.