The Rev. Al Sharpton Tuesday defended cooperating with the FBI in the mid-1980’s and said he never knowingly served as an informant in toppling New York mobsters.
“I was never told I was an informant with a number,” the civil rights leader and MSNBC host said in a news conference. “In my own mind, I was not an informant. I was cooperating with investigations.”
The civil rights leader pressed back against a lengthy investigation published on the website The Smoking Gun Monday, which claimed Sharpton helped bring down top mafia bosses through several secretly recorded conversations.
Citing secret court documents, FBI memos and interviews with law enforcement officials, the report claimed Sharpton started working with law enforcement agents in 1983, in efforts to take down the Genovese crime family.
The website charged that Sharpton operated under the codename “CI-7,” short for Confidential Informant No. 7. He secretly caught mobsters on tape through a briefcase fashioned with a recording device.
Sharpton Tuesday said he and his lawyers would review the authenticity of the documents obtained by The Smoking Gun.
The revelations come as Sharpton, host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation, launches a four-day convention for his civil rights group, the National Action Network. President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are both scheduled to give speeches at the annual confab this week.
Sharpton Tuesday resisted the latest round of reports characterizing how he began working with the feds in the first place. According to the website’s report, FBI agents “flipped” Sharpton into becoming an informant after he was caught in a sting operation discussing cocaine deals.
For his part, Sharpton said he became involved with federal law enforcement officials after he received death threats over his work advocating a place for more African-Americans on the business side of the music industry. The industry at the time was heavily influenced by the mafia, Sharpton said.
Sharpton said he had feared for his life and sought protection from government officials and urged them to take on the organized crime bosses.
“They were threatening to kill me,” he said of the mob.
Stories of Sharpton’s cooperation with the FBI are nothing new. In fact during the press conference Tuesday, Sharpton read a passage from his 1996 book, Go and Tell Pharaoh, recounting the death threats from mobsters working in the music industry and his efforts to root out drug crime in the black community.
But if Sharpton had any direct role in convicting top mobsters, he said that’s news to him.
“I brought down the mob? The guys I talked to were never brought down,” Sharpton said. He was unsure whether his recordings with Joseph “Joe Bana” Buonanno ultimately helped target key actors in organized crime as The Smoking Gun claimed–characters like “Benny Eggs,” “Chin,” “Fritzy,” “Corky,” and “Baldy Dom.”
The website contended that eight separate U.S. District Court judges signed off on wiretaps that were based on sworn FBI affidavits aided by information Sharpton gathered. The secret phone recordings–made possible by the court orders–were “eventually used to help convict an assortment of Mafia members and associates,” the Smoking Gun reported.
Sharpton said he had no choice but to deal with the crime bosses over 30 years ago, when he was working with famed musician James Brown. “The mob ran the music business,” he said. “If you were going to deal in that business, you had to deal with them.”
“I’m not a mobster,” he said, “I’m a preacher.”