Civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Rev. Al Sharpton was not only protesting the government to end discriminatory practices but also working for the government as an FBI informant in the 1980s.
This came to light in 2014 when unsealed FBI documents finally forced Sharpton to admit to his role working as a spy. During his efforts for the FBI, Sharpton worked to bring down famed and flamboyant boxing promoter Don King. Sharpton also helped the intelligence agency get dirt on mob-connected music executives and some top mafia crime figures.
While Sharpton admitted his undercover role, there is still debate as to how he became an informant. According to some reports, Sharpton turned rat to save himself after being implicated in a federal drug sting.
The FBI “flipped” Sharpton after agents confronted him with a surveillance video showing him discussing cocaine with an undercover agent, The Smoking Gun reported in 2014. “The panicked reverend agreed — on the spot — to cooperate with federal agents.” He became a paid undercover informant.
But Sharpton said that an FBI sting did not nab him. When he decided to speak openly about his years as an informant at a 2014 National Action Network annual convention, he said he went to the authorities to protect himself from mobbed-up music executives he claimed “were trying to kill” him.
Sharpton said that he first contacted the FBI in early 1984 after his life was threatened by Salvatore Pisello, a mafia wise guy with music industry connections. Pisello was upset that Sharpton had threatened to stage boycotts and demonstrations unless Black promoters got a piece of the upcoming “Victory Tour” featuring Michael Jackson and his brothers, according to Sharpton.
However, FBI documents show that Sharpton began cooperating with the FBI in mid-1983 — prior to the threat from Pisello.
No matter how he got started, Sharpton was a key player in several FBI investigations and often wore a wire to record conversations. He worked on the investigation against boxing promoter King, who was the principal target of the FBI operation that netted the reverend in an operation called “Crown Royal,” The Smoking Gun reported.
After turning snitch, Sharpton also helped bust famous mob figures such as Vincent “Chin” Gigante, known as the “Oddfather” because he roamed around New York’s Little Italy wearing a bathrobe.
Sharpton also reportedly wore a wire and recorded Genovese mafia soldier Joseph “Joe Bana” Buonanno, The New York Post reported.
Even in his admission, Sharpton tried to backpedal from his FBI role. “In my own mind, I was not an informant, and I was cooperating with an investigation,” Sharpton said.
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Despite Sharpton’s admission to being a government snitch, Don King said in a 2014 interview he was not upset with the community leader.
He praised Sharpton as a “stand-up person” for secretly recording mobsters for the feds.
“Al Sharpton had enough guts to fight, if it is true, to fight for others spending their ways and means to take away opportunity,” King told The New York Post.
King praised Sharpton’s work in NYC’s Black communities, often fighting to rid neighborhoods of drug dealers. He praised Sharpton for painting large Xs on the homes of drug dealers to identify them to neighbors and cops.
“How many people would put their lives in danger?” King asked. “They should give him five stars for service and duty above and beyond for the betterment of our nation, for this great country of America.”
King also praised Sharpton as a champion of the youth. “The people’s greatest resources are its children, and he put himself in the fight for our youth. He makes us live up to that creed, one man, for liberty and justice for all,” King said. “I commend Sharpton for his bold, courageous Americanism.”