The Rev. Al Sharpton has made a remarkable rise to national prominence, from community organizer to President Obama’s consultant, amid a long and lesser-known history of debt and tax obligations totaling millions of dollars.
Sharpton and his for-profit businesses owe more than $4.5 million in state and federal tax liens, according to The New York Times.
And his influential nonprofit group, National Action Network, the Times said, appears to be in a similar situation, saddled with years of unpaid travel and hotel expenses while apparently staying afloat by not paying federal payroll taxes for employees.
The newspaper also suggested that Sharpton is not paying enough or fast enough to reduce his obligation to the state of New York, a situation he sharply refuted Tuesday.
The 60-year-old civil rights leader told FoxNews.com that he has an agreement with the government to repay his personal and business-related taxes and that his payments are on time.
“We have a signed agreement,” he said. “And what is in the agreement has been kept. We’ve been up to date. This is the most bogus story in the world.”
He also made clear that the roughly $1 million raised at New York event to celebrate his 60th birthday, on which The Times reported, will go toward repaying his debts.
Sharpton also argued that his work ethic and determination are above reproach but acknowledged his shortcomings as an administrator.
To be sure, Sharpton has come a long way since his days as a robust preacher and activist working the streets of Brooklyn in a jogging suit.
The low point in his career likely came in the late 1980s when he accused a New York prosecutor of being part of a group of white men that abducted and raped teenager Tawana Brawley, an allegation that proved to be false.
The much slimmer and well-tailored Sharpton now has a show on MSNBC. He appeared on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., to appeal for justice and calm in the aftermath of a white police officer in August fatally shooting unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
More recently, Sharpton was at the White House when Obama announced that Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who is black, would be his nominee to be the next U.S. attorney general.
And he has served as an informal adviser to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I have the support of the black community,” said Sharpton, who was on standby to fly back to Missouri should a grand jury announce whether to indict the officer in the shooting. “President Obama and (New York Gov. Andrew) Cuomo aren’t doing me a favor.”
He said that his rise to prominence has also increased his pay and that he is negotiating a deal with government officials to clear his debt by offering them 50 cents on the dollar.
“I’ll write a check tonight,” Sharpton said.
The Time also reported that Sharpton, a Democrat and former mayoral and Senate candidate, also had a history of delinquent rent payments to his friend, Bishop E. Bernard Jordan.
Sharpton asked why he would be responsible for back payments at the Jordan’s Brooklyn rental home in 2006 when he had separated two years earlier from his wife, who remained in the home while he lived in a Manhattan apartment.
“What is new is this story?” Sharpton asked.