The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that with a hidden FBI camera rolling inside a New York hotel suite in 2003, an unsuspecting Rev. Al Sharpton, then Democratic candidate for president, spoke candidly.
Sharpton offered to help Philadelphia fund-raiser Ronald A. White win a multimillion-dollar business deal, if White helped him raise $50,000 for politics.
White offered $25,000. "If you bring my guys up on this hedge fund, and I have the right conversation," White said, "I’ll give you what you need."
"Cool," Sharpton said.
The Inquirer obtained an account of the May 9, 2003, conversation, which was recorded as part of the Philadelphia City Hall corruption case. The tape helped spark a separate inquiry into Sharpton’s 2004 campaign and his civil-rights organization, the National Action Network. The FBI-IRS probe resurfaced publicly Wednesday, when Sharpton aides received subpoenas.
In an interview Friday with the Inquirer, Sharpton said there is "absolutely nothing illegal" about tying business deals to fund-raising because he is not a public official.
"The tapes vindicate me," Sharpton said. "They show that I did not talk about bribing a public official or paying money under the table."
The video was recorded by an FBI camera hidden in a lamp inside Suite 34A at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Manhattan. Sharpton and White were introduced by La-Van Hawkins, a Detroit businessman.
FBI agents tapping White’s phones in 2003 recorded more than 20 conversations between White and Sharpton, most of them related to fund-raising for the presidential campaign and an effort to secure a $40 million pension-fund deal in New York.
About a year later, White, Hawkins and a dozen others, including former City Treasurer Corey Kemp, were indicted in Philadelphia on federal pay-to-play corruption charges.
White died before trial. Hawkins was convicted of fraud and perjury and sentenced to 33 months. Kemp is serving a 10-year sentence for corruption, bribery and fraud.
No charges were brought related to Sharpton or the proposed New York pension-fund deal, which never materialized.
However, as The Inquirer reported in 2005, the New York-based investigation of Sharpton has continued. Sources said agents in that case are examining whether Sharpton violated campaign-finance laws or used money donated to his National Action Network for personal use.
To qualify for matching federal funds in the presidential campaign, Sharpton needed to raise $5,000 in each of 20 states. According to a spreadsheet created by White’s office staff, White and Hawkins raised contributions for Sharpton in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania. White solicited funds from donors in Texas, New Jersey, Alabama and Maryland, and made plans to raise money in a half dozen other states.
Some contributors, however, were reluctant to help White contribute to Sharpton because they didn’t want their names attached to the controversial preacher in public records. One businessman in Philadelphia is heard on one wiretap expressing such concern. White convinced him to move the money through White’s political action committee instead.
On a few calls, Hawkins expressed his concern about Sharpton’s shortcomings as a candidate. He was sloppy with campaign finances, Hawkins said, worrying that some campaign funds might get mixed with personal or National Action Network funds.
"He’s a train wreck – a plane crash waiting to happen," Hawkins told White.