Sharpton on drug sting tape
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2002
A shocking FBI surveillance tape shows the Rev. Al Sharpton discussing a major drug deal with an undercover agent posing as a South American kingpin.
The black activist was offered thousands of dollars as a cut for arranging bulk sales of cocaine on the 1983 videotape, which will be shown tonight on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
"I can get pure coke ... for about 35,000 a kilo," says Victor Quintana, the FBI agent, as Sharpton nods during the sting operation. "But I gotta get, you know, more than one."
"Right," Sharpton replies.
"Ten kilograms is, like, $350,000," Quintana says. "That's a drop in the bucket, you know. We can go bigger."
"Every kilogram we bring in is 3,500 to you. How does that sound?" Quintana asks, as Sharpton nods again. "So we bring in 10, you'll make $35,000.
"I hear you," Sharpton replies.
Sharpton admitted yesterday that he appears on the never-before-seen tape but insisted he was rebuffing a government attempt to set him up.
He says he played along with Quintana even when he mentioned cocaine in part because he feared Quintana might be armed.
"It's not damaging at all. It's a vindication of what I have been saying for years," said Sharpton, 47. "This is nothing but a government smear campaign."
The grainy tape shows Sharpton plunking himself down in a paneled office facing the FBI agent posing as a cocaine dealer.
An unlit cigar stuffed in his mouth, Sharpton sports a cowboy hat over his familiar '80s-vintage bouffant hair-do.
The conversation is somewhat cryptic, but the undercover agent offers Sharpton a 10% finder's fee to arrange the sale of several kilos of cocaine. The ultimate buyer is not named.
"But that's a drip in the bucket," the phony drug lord continues.
"Well, if [the unnamed buyer] can, if he's gonna do it, he'll do it much more than that," Sharpton says.
"If he can do it 100 times over, I might be able to supply it 100 times over," Quintana replies.
Bolts HBO interview
On the HBO show, Sharpton first refuses to watch the video and storms out of the interview with reporter Bernard Goldberg.
But he later returns, watches and attacks the video as a setup.
The drug deal was never consummated, and no charges were brought against Sharpton as a result of the tape.
Law enforcement sources have said the FBI used the tape as leverage to enlist Sharpton as a government informant against fellow black activists and others.
In the past, Sharpton has admitted wearing a wire and allowing the government to tap his home phone, but he now denies that he was a snitch.
"The question is: Why would the government say that?" Sharpton said yesterday. "If they have an agreement with me, where is it?"
Focus on ex-wise guy
HBO is airing the tape as part of a story about Michael Franzese, a former Mafia captain who once facilitated gambling by pro athletes.
Franzese tells HBO he met Sharpton after Quintana approached him in hopes of hooking up with boxing promoter Don King.
Sharpton supposedly was planning to arrange a meeting with King to finalize the deal.
But neither Franzese nor Sharpton knew Quintana was a government agent probing the boxing business and possible ties between the mob and King.
The question of links among King, Sharpton and the mob has been fertile ground for investigations.
Several newspaper exposÚs have dealt with the issue, and a second bombshell video from the same FBI probe showed Sharpton discussing boxing deals with reputed mob soldiers.
The Senate investigations subcommittee also focused on King and Sharpton during high-profile 1992 hearings into the dirty fight business.
But the Sharpton drug tape didn't surface until HBO recently obtained it.
The stakes are high for Sharpton, who has talked about running for President in 2004.
Other revelations about his past have done little to deter his lofty political ambitions, and he insisted the tape would boost his popularity.
"If anything it will rally people around me," Sharpton said. "For 18 years, the government has been trying to find a way to get me."