In 1988, Al Sharpton was 33 and a fiery civil rights advocate. I was 34, the police bureau chief for the newspaper New York Newsday, and part of a reporting group that had spent months digging into the allegations that “The Rev” had spied on black activists, mobsters and sports activities figures as an informant for the FBI.
He was portly, wore a track suit, a medallion the size of a hub cap, and a pompadour. He was also a lightning rod for high-profile civil rights cases, leading protests after the death of Michael Griffith, who was beaten and chased into visitors by a white mob in Queens, and getting to be a spokesman for Tawana Brawley, the upstate black teen who falsely claimed she’d been gang raped by whites.
Today Al Sharpton is the host of one of MSNBC’s much more well-liked exhibits and I am the senior executive producer for investigations at NBC News. We pass each other in the halls, and I’ve appeared on his broadcast, exactly where he launched me as “my colleague, Richard Esposito.”
On the eve of Sharpton’s National Action Ne2rk Convention in Manhattan, “The Smoking Gun” site has posted a report, with fresh paperwork, that reprises the reporting we did so numerous many years in the past.
Our reporting was nominated for a Pulitzer, and the extended-ago letter from the Pulitzer committee sits somewhere in the files of Bob Drury, the one-time sports activities author (and now non-fiction guide author) who was the lead reporter on the crew. It was Drury’s earlier reporting on flamboyant boxing promoter Don King, who he positioned at a meeting with Colombo loved ones mobster Michael Franzese, FBI undercover agent Victor Quintanilla, and Al Sharpton, that became the impetus for the Newsday probe.
Quintanilla, the undercover agent, had been posing as a man striving to get into the battle promotion organization. In a videotape that the FBI attempted to use to ensnare Sharpton, law enforcement officials informed Newsday, Sharpton mentioned a cocaine deal with the agent.
In a 2-hour interview with Drury and Mike McAlary, Sharpton disputed the version supplied by law enforcement sources, but admitted the FBI threatened to prosecute him primarily based on the contents of the videotape.
“[An agent] said to me that they acquired a tape of me speaking medicines,” explained Sharpton. “I really don’;t know if they were bluffing to be honest with you. … They declare that they have all this on tape. I said ‘If you do, you acquired an entrapment. I never agreed to do something like this.’ I told them to indict me.”
Reporting by the Newsday staff, which also incorporated Robert Kessler, who had deep FBI sources, indicated that right after the drug sting Sharpton had carried a briefcase outfitted with a recording gadget throughout meetings with mobsters, activists and other figures of curiosity to the FBI.
“That briefcase was sitting on his desk when he spoke to us,” Drury recalls. “When we advised him that our sources told us he spent 5 many years as government informant and we pointed to the briefcase that contained the wire, he acknowledged it. “
McAlary, who later on won a Pulitzer for exposing the police sexual assault on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, was jumping for joy right after he and Drury finished the interview with Sharpton. McAlary felt he’d nailed “The Rev.”
Sharpton, who was then in the midst of the Brawley fiasco and was becoming a single of the nation’s most visible black activists, denounced the Newsday account as “ludicrous.” He created public statements counter to what he’d stated in his taped interview with Newsday, according to excerpts published by the paper.
“On the drug situation, they set up a cellphone in my residence. Civil rights folks would in no way call me on that phone. I didn’t give the number out. I known as them,” he explained in the taped interview.
The following day he denied it.
Anytime I pass Sharpton in the halls at NBC – and believe me, there is not a flicker of recognition in his eyes – I think of the numerous mobile phone calls I lobbed at him more than the years, which he was much less and less very likely to return the a lot more popular he became. When all else failed, I resorted to a simple formulation.
“Reverend, this is Esposito, of Esposito, Drury and McAlary,” I’d say. Generally, that worked.
But this is New York, and we all reinvent ourselves. The after-portly Al is now as skinny as a Pez dispenser. The police reporter who drank at dawn in fish marketplace bars with undercover cops is now a broadcast news executive.
Even the mobster Fritzy Giovanelli , who was sentenced to 20 many years in prison based on wiretaps that Sharpton’s info assisted persuade a judge to authorize, has had a opportunity to rethink issues. He advocates leniency for Reverend Al.
“Poor Sharpton, he cleaned up his existence,” stated Giovanelli, “and you want to damage him.”
First published April 8 2014, 11:42 AM