NEW YORK – The Rev. Al Sharpton has criticized a 19-year-old FBI surveillance tape of him discussing a drug deal, claiming the recording is part of a campaign to smear his name.
"This is nothing but some dirty tricks from some law enforcement officials," the civil rights activist said from Cleveland on Monday night.
The tape, to be aired on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Tuesday night, was recorded as part of a government investigation into whether boxing promoter Don King had ties with organized crime.
Sharpton said the taped conversation dated to 1983, when self-described mobster Michael Franzese and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Latin American businessman approached him to discuss promoting boxing matches and musical events.
Sharpton, 47, said that during the course of the conversation, the undercover agent began discussing a cocaine deal. The tape shows Sharpton being offered thousands of dollars to arrange the sale of cocaine.
"The guy had come to me. In the middle of conversation he started talking about how he could cut me in on a cocaine deal," Sharpton said. "I didn't know what this guy was on about. I didn't know if he was armed. I was scared so I just nodded my head to everything he said and then he left."
A message left with the FBI was not immediately returned late Monday.
Sharpton said he didn't hear anything more about the conversation until months later, when federal law enforcement officials confronted him with the tape.
A 1988 report in the now-defunct New York Newsday, citing unnamed sources, said that once confronted with the evidence Sharpton became an informant for the government, at times wearing a wire tap, a charge Sharpton called ludicrous.
"This was investigated over and over again," Sharpton said Monday. "They all admitted nothing had happened and no charges were ever filed."
Sharpton said he believed the tape had been leaked by law enforcement officials to disrupt his potential presidential run in 2004. He scheduled a press conference for Tuesday morning.
"It's a cheap smear campaign, but I think it will end up generating sympathy for what I have been fighting for all these years against government abuses in trying to bring down successful minority businesspeople," he said.
Messages left with HBO were not immediately returned Monday evening.