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Sharpton calls drug tape a "smear campaign'

The Rev. Al Sharpton has criticized an old FBI surveillance tape of him discussing a drug deal, claiming the recording is part of a campaign to smear his name.

"It will take more than a distorted, 19-year-old tape to stop my exploration to run for the president of the United States," Sharpton told a Tuesday news conference in Harlem.

The tape, which aired on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel Tuesday night, was recorded as part of a government investigation into whether boxing promoter Don King had ties with organized crime.

Sharpton said the taped conversation dated to 1983, when self-described mobster Michael Franzese and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Latin American businessman approached him to discuss promoting boxing matches and musical events.

Sharpton, 47, said during the course of the conversation, the undercover agent began discussing a cocaine deal. The tape shows Sharpton being offered thousands of dollars to arrange the sale of cocaine.

"Every kilogram we bring in, $3,500 to you. How does that sound?" FBI agent Victor Quintana asks, as Sharpton nods. "So we bring in 10, you'll make $35,000."

"I hear you," Sharpton replies.

"But that's a drip in the bucket," Quintana continues.

"Well, if (the buyer) can, if he's going to do it, he'll do it much more than that," says Sharpton, sporting a cowboy hat and an unlit cigar in his mouth.

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said the report "speaks for itself."

"The guy had come to me. In the middle of conversation he started talking about how he could cut me in on a cocaine deal," Sharpton said. "I didn't know what this guy was on about. I didn't know if he was armed. I was scared so I just nodded my head to everything he said and then he left."

A message left with the FBI was not returned.

Sharpton said he didn't hear anything more about the conversation until months later, when federal law enforcement officials confronted him with the tape.

A 1988 report in the now-defunct New York Newsday, citing unnamed sources, said that once confronted with the evidence Sharpton became an informer for the government, a charge Sharpton called ludicrous.

"This was investigated over and over again," Sharpton said Monday. "They all admitted nothing had happened, and no charges were ever filed."

Sharpton said he's not worried.

"It's a cheap smear campaign, but I think it will end up generating sympathy for what I have been fighting for all these years against government abuses in trying to bring down successful minority business people," he said.