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Reverend Al Sharpton has admitted to working with the FBI and recording conversations with alleged mobsters. The website The Smoking Gun published documents detailing Sharpton's involvement, saying he's the guy referred to in the document as Confidential Informant 7. This was back in the 1980s during some of the bureau's biggest mafia investigations.
As NPR's Joe Rose reports, Sharpton denies any wrongdoing.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Today, Al Sharpton is a host on MSNBC, an establishment figure who rubs elbows with the president and attorney general. Back in the 1980s, he was an activist, political outsider, and secretly a source of information for the FBI.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON: I did what anybody would do that is respected and I cooperated with that.
ROSE: At a press conference today in Harlem, Sharpton said he cooperated with the FBI in the mid '80s when his life was threatened by thugs in the music industry, because he insisted that black concert promoters should play a bigger role in the industry. Sharpton says he went to the FBI who in turn asked him to record conversations with alleged mobsters, using especially equipped briefcase.
SHARPTON: We had conversations for the purposes of trying to solicit these guys to repeat the threats, and we continued having conversations around that. Conversations were recorded and I would record them today if somebody threatened me.
ROSE: Reports of Sharpton's cooperation with the FBI go back to 1988. What's new are court documents published by the website The Smoking Gun. They detail meetings between Confidential Informant 7, said to be Sharpton and alleged mafiosi.
William Bastone is the editor of The Smoking Gun. He says law enforcement sources confirm that Sharpton was CI7.
WILLIAM BASTONE: They just kept sending him back and sending him back and sending him back with the briefcase, because the wiseguy got to be very comfortable with him and spoke openly about a lot of things that the FBI was interested in hearing about.
ROSE: Things and people, like Morris Levy, a powerful music industry figure with ties to the Genovese crime family, and Vincent Chin Gigante, the family's boss. Bastone says Sharpton's connection in the music industry were helpful to the FBI.
BASTONE: This is a guy who had significant organized crime connections before he was flipped by the FBI.
ROSE: But Sharpton denies that he was friendly with mobsters. He says he knew them because at the time the music industry was full of them.
SHARPTON: They ran the music business. If you dealt with the music business at all, you had to deal with them. For the (unintelligible), if I was doing business with James Brown, I had no choice but to meet with guys who would later be alleged, or early to be alleged, to be mafia.
ROSE: The release of the documents comes just as Sharpton's National Action Network is preparing to host a convention in New York that includes scheduled speeches by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Obama.
But longtime Democratic consultant George Arzt doesn't foresee any long-term problems for Sharpton.
GEORGE ARZT: Everybody knew his FBI background. The only thing new is that there are official documents that now say it. I think that it adds to his luster as a New York character. And I don't think that there is anything negative in it.
ROSE: A New York character with a nightly cable news show on MSNBC. Both the network and the FBI declined comment.
Joe Rose, NPR News, New York.
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