WASHINGTON – The FBI (search), as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Rev. Al Sharpton (search), secretly videotaped him pocketing campaign donations from two shady fund-raisers in a New York City hotel room and then asking for more, it was reported yesterday.
One of the donors was later recorded on a wiretap saying Sharpton may not have reported to the Federal Election Commission (search) tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, as is required by the law, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The FBI launched the probe into Sharpton's fund-raising for his failed 2004 presidential run after his name surfaced on wiretaps in an unrelated Philadelphia City Hall corruption case, the Inquirer said.
The Post confirmed the FBI investigation of Sharpton. The two dubious donors whom Sharpton met with in the hotel on May 9, 2003 — Democratic fund-raisers La-Van Hawkins and the late Ronald White — suggested that nearly $90,000 was missing from the official campaign report Sharpton filed with the FEC.
Hawkins is currently on trial in Philadelphia on corruption charges unrelated to the Sharpton case; White also was going to be indicted, but he died before charges could be brought.
An FBI wiretap picked up Hawkins telling White he believed they had raised more than $140,000 for Sharpton in the previous quarter — but Hawkins fretted because Sharpton had reported only about $50,000 on his federal election filing.
"He's a train wreck — a plane crash waiting to happen," Hawkins told White about Sharpton, according to the paper.
FEC records show Sharpton reported raising about $54,000 during the period, the second quarter of 2003.
Sharpton has denied any wrongdoing.
In the hotel room, the FBI had videotape secretly rolling as White forked over a wad of campaign checks to Sharpton. Sharpton demanded $25,000 more, and White promised he'd try to raise it.
Wiretaps show that White and Hawkins supported Sharpton because they believed the candidate could grease the skids in future business deals — primarily a $40 million deal related to New York City's pension fund.
The feds learned Hawkins, a Detroit fast-food king, sought to create a fried-chicken empire financed with millions of dollars invested from the Big Apple pension fund.
White and Hawkins wooed Sharpton with the campaign checks to set up a meeting with Comptroller William Thompson, who controls the pension funds — though nothing ever came of it. Thompson is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Fearing that Sharpton and the donors were hatching a plan to defraud the pension fund, the FBI got clearance for the videotape from a judge.
That angle proved to be unfounded — but the FBI surveillance uncovered the possible campaign fund-raising fraud. The precise focus of the FBI probe could not be learned.
Sharpton told the Philadelphia paper the allegations were a "politically motivated smokescreen" to hide the fact the Justice Department is out to get him.
Neither he nor his lawyer returned phone calls from The Post yesterday.
Sharpton told the paper that mistakes could have been made by his campaign, but said they were not deliberate.
"In any campaign, you have irregularities," he said. "I don't say that it's not possible there are people in my campaign who have done something."
Sharpton ripped the federal probe and the secret videotaping of the hotel meeting, saying, "Can you imagine what would happen if it was a white presidential candidate?"
With the help of White and Hawkins, Sharpton collected enough money across the country to qualify for federal campaign matching funds in 2003.
But because Sharpton pumped more than $50,000 of his own money into the campaign — disqualifying him from getting the taxpayer-backed funding — the FEC said he must give back $100,000. Sharpton is appealing the FEC decision.