A federal investigation of the Rev. Al Sharpton, triggered during the 2003 Philadelphia City Hall corruption probe, resurfaced publicly in New York yesterday amid reports of subpoenas and a news conference by the former presidential candidate.
As The Inquirer reported in 2005, the FBI is investigating fund-raising and spending related to Sharpton's 2004 campaign, including efforts to qualify for matching funds and suspicions by two fund-raisers that he might have violated campaign-finance laws.
Sharpton yesterday criticized the FBI and IRS for visiting the homes of supporters Wednesday to issue subpoenas, calling it retaliation for his civil-rights advocacy, the Associated Press reported.
"I have probably been under every investigation known to man and I can't remember a time that I've not been under investigation," Sharpton said at the headquarters of the National Action Network, his civil-rights organization in Harlem.
"The issues raised are issues that we've learned over and over again, particularly when we are approaching an election season."
As many as 10 Sharpton associates were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Brooklyn on Dec. 26, his lawyer told the New York Daily News. Sharpton himself was not subpoenaed.
FBI wiretaps on the phones of Ronald A. White, a central figure in the Philadelphia City Hall case, recorded several calls with Sharpton and fund-raisers in 2003.
Wiretaps reviewed by The Inquirer show that White supported Sharpton because he believed the candidate could open doors in future business ventures. One of them involved an unsuccessful attempt to win a $40 million deal related to New York's pension fund.
White helped the candidate raise enough money to qualify for matching federal funds. To do so, Sharpton needed to raise $5,000 in each of 20 states. On one wiretapped call, White told Sharpton about successful fund-raising efforts in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
White was indicted with a dozen others, including former City Treasurer Corey Kemp, on unrelated corruption charges in 2004. White, who was accused of obtaining municipal contracts for contributors to Mayor Street, died before trial.
Street was not charged in the case, but the FBI planted a bug in his office in October 2003, suspecting that he and White were working together in a pay-to-play conspiracy. The FBI bug was discovered before it recorded anything.
One of the coconspirators convicted at the 2005 trial, Detroit businessman La-Van Hawkins, was White's conduit to Sharpton. White and Hawkins spent months in 2003 raising funds for Sharpton - and working on potential business deals.
Hawkins was convicted of fraud and perjury and sentenced to 33 months.
White and Hawkins suspected that Sharpton might be running afoul of election laws, according to FBI wiretaps reviewed by The Inquirer.
In a 2005 interview, Sharpton said that his campaign might have made mistakes, but that it never had made a deliberate attempt to misuse campaign donations.
"In any campaign, you have irregularities," he said. "I don't say it's not possible there are people in my campaign who have done something."