We’ve known for decades that Reverend Al Sharpton worked with the FBI in the ‘80s in an investigation of boxing promoter Don King, allegedly because he was caught up in a drug sting and pressured to cooperate. On Monday, the Smoking Gun fleshed out the story in a lengthy report that includes court documents and FBI memos obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests (and long asides detailing Sharpton’s close relationship with President Obama). The site claims that Sharpton, who was referred to as Confidential Informant No. 7 or CI-7, was an important FBI informant who secretly recorded conversations with various Mafia acquaintances using a bugged briefcase. Supposedly, information provided by Sharpton helped bring down several members of the Genovese crime family, but he disputes the report, saying, “I was never told I was an informant.”
The Smoking Gun report says Sharpton assisted a joint FBI-NYPD task force for several years beginning in the mid-’80s, in one case recording ten conversations with Joseph Buonanno, a member of the Gambino family, that covered everything from extortion plots to mob hits. Sharpton’s FBI handler would allegedly pay him small amounts of money. One document states that CI-7 had conversations with members of all five New York crime families, as well as Mafia figures in other parts of the country, as his information “has never been found to be false or inaccurate.” Based in part on information gathered by CI-7, judges approved requests to bug clubs frequented by Genovese family members, two phone lines in Genovese family leader Vincent Gigante’s home, and cars used by the mobsters.
In multiple interviews on Monday evening, Sharpton insisted he did nothing wrong. He said he went to the FBI after members of the mob threatened his life due to his advocacy for black recording artists. “If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” he told the Daily News. Sharpton said he never used a bugged briefcase, was only reimbursed for travel expenses, and did not know whether federal agents “used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes.”
Sharpton told WCBS 880 that The Smoking Gun is “just trying to get some attention,” noting that their report highlighting his alleged connections to a vast criminal underworld appeared just days before President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are set to appear at his civil rights group’s annual convention in New York. “At the end of the day, I’m not accused of committing a crime,” said Sharpton. “So are you saying it’s scandalous for me to help the good guys? It’s crazy.”