Sharpton sues AOL

July 25, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

NEW YORK - The Rev. Al Sharpton has filed a $1 billion defamation lawsuit against AOL Time Warner Inc. over a Home Box Office cable show that aired FBI surveillance tapes of Sharpton discussing a drug deal.

Sharpton said in the lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan that Tuesday night's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel program about corruption in sports failed to show portions of the 1983 tapes in which Sharpton allegedly rejects the drug deal.

"I will not bend or buckle or bow to a smear campaign," Sharpton, who is considering a campaign for U.S. president in 2004, said during a news conference at the courthouse yesterday. "I had nothing to do with drugs."

The tape used by HBO shows an undercover agent with the FBI posing as a South American drug dealer, asking Sharpton if he wants to take part in cocaine trafficking. Sharpton, a civil rights activist, discussed the drug deal for several minutes without accepting or declining the offer, according to the tape. He wasn't charged in the investigation.

The suit names AOL Time Warner, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, the reporter, Bernard Goldberg and former organized crime figure Michael Franzese, who introduced the phony drug lord to Sharpton.

"The lawsuit is so silly that it is unworthy of comment," said HBO spokesman Ray Stallone. "As to Mr. Sharpton's claim there is a second videotape that exonerates him, we indicated to him that we would welcome the chance to see it."

The tape was made as part of a federal investigation into boxing promoter Don King's possible ties to organized crime. HBO aired the tape as part of a story about Franzese, who claimed to have taken bets from professional athletes. Franzese attempted to use Sharpton, then 28, as an intermediary to reach King, according to the report.

Sharpton, who has run unsuccessfully for New York mayor and the U.S. Senate, said during the news conference that he was "bluffing" when he pretended to be interested in the drug deal discussed on the tape.

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