When the NY Times FINALLY wakes up to the con man from their backyard running for president, you know it's getting serious. The Clintons and other serious Dems(to their credit) are waking up to the albatross this cash-stealing animal will be to them no matter who gets the nomination.

Pepsi gave this POS $25,000-I'm drinking Coke from now on. Not that it's getting down to brass tacks and hard cash, I'd be worried if my home or office was near his campaign HQ. A convenient"suspicious fire" can be only days away.

Sharpton Shrugs Off Issues About His Tangled Finances

Published: January 10, 2004

While the Rev. Al Sharpton has struggled to raise contributions for his longshot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, his campaign has paid thousands of dollars for him to stay in luxury hotels and to travel around the country with his own personal filmmaker.

Even as the campaign awaits word from the Federal Election Commission on whether it will be certified for matching money which would mean an infusion of more than $100,000 from taxpayers a review of the candidate's most recent campaign report, filed in September, shows it is marked by oversights, errors and potential violations.

The campaign, for example, did not report the free use of cars. A spokesman for the commission said it should have been reported, and the contribution could also be illegal.

In many ways, the campaign parallels Mr. Sharpton's personal and professional lives when it comes to finances, according to court, New York State and New York City records. Besides disclosing a history of staying in expensive hotels, flying first class and relying on limousine services, though, such records also reveal a series of judgments, lawsuits and tax debts.

Mr. Sharpton tried to deflect blame for his financial record by suggesting that he and many of the people around him were not financial experts, but activists who should be given some leeway in such matters.

"We are an advocacy group," Mr. Sharpton said in an interview on Christmas morning, referring to his group, the National Action Network. "Your staff sometimes lets things slip through the cracks, probably."

"This morning we are feeding the homeless," he said. "I have no idea if they paid the guy that brings the truck, or tipped the guy that brings in the bread."

But Mr. Sharpton's financial lapses extend to his life as a businessman and a civil rights leader. He is being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, a review Mr. Sharpton said was spurred by questions about the accuracy of his personal and business tax filings. In 1993, as part of a deal to settle two New York State felony charges, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of not filing his personal state income taxes seven years earlier.

Mr. Sharpton said that the financial issues should not reflect badly on his fitness to be a candidate for president. Further, he said that in September he brought in Charles Halloran, a new campaign manager, and that he has hired a lawyer with an expertise in campaign finance.

But while the campaign has struggled to raise money, collecting $284,000 by September, Mr. Sharpton chose to stay in luxury hotels like the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, a European-style hotel with antiques and private balconies, and the Mandarin Oriental in Miami, on Biscayne Bay. Most candidates stay in more modest hotels to hold expenses down.

Mr. Sharpton said he chose the Mansion on Turtle Creek because he was attending a Black Expo and other attendees were staying there. According to his filing to the commission, the bill came to $3,264.11 for one night for Mr. Sharpton; Eddie Harris, his personal filmmaker; and Mr. Harris's sister, Marjorie Harris Smikle, the executive director of the National Action Network.

In July, Mr. Sharpton spent $7,343.20 at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles for a three-day stay that included campaign-related events at the hotel.

"If I was going to go and live the high life, I certainly wouldn't be doing it one night or two nights at a time," Mr. Sharpton said about his choice of accommodations.

He said he had agreed that the campaign would now pay only $200 a night for his or any other person's hotel room and, if the election commission permitted it, he would pay the difference to stay at a more expensive hotel.

The campaign has also spent thousands of dollars on airfare and lodging for Mr. Harris, who, according to Mr. Halloran, does not work for the campaign. Instead, he is under contract with the National Action Network and has a deal with Mr. Sharpton to film his activities. In June and July, the campaign paid about $4,000 in airfare for Mr. Harris.

Election-law experts said using campaign contributions to cover noncampaign-related expenses is improper, and a commission spokesman said Mr. Harris's travel and lodging was probably not a "qualified campaign expense."

The Sharpton campaign also did not report that it had received the free use of cars from a car dealer in South Carolina. That should have been reported as an in-kind campaign contribution, Mr. Halloran said. Bob Biersack, a spokesman for the election commission, said that in some circumstances the free car use could be considered an illegal corporate contribution.

Campaign records also show that when Frank Watkins, Mr. Sharpton's national campaign manager, left the campaign in September, he was owed thousands of dollars in unpaid salary and expenses. The new campaign manager said some of that had been paid, and Mr. Sharpton said they parted on good terms.

But when questions were raised about the campaign's filing in September, Mr. Sharpton primarily blamed Mr. Watkins for the problems. Mr. Watkins, while cautious about not entering into a feud with Mr. Sharpton, said, "I know what the F.E.C. rules are, and I made those rules known to the candidate."

In any case, Mr. Halloran said, "Since I have been here I have made it very clear to people what the rules are and that we would follow them, and the reverend has backed me 100 percent on that."

A financial record like Mr. Sharpton's would probably put an end to most bids for office. But Mr. Sharpton has benefited from not being taken quite so seriously as a candidate and from the financial reputation he brought into the race. He is, after all, the man who said in a deposition about his finances that the only things he owned were his watch and wedding ring. "That's about it," he replied to a lawyer's question.

Until recently, the clearest picture of Mr. Sharpton's finances was given in that deposition, which was taken on Dec. 6, 2000, for a lawsuit stemming from the 1987 case of Tawana Brawley, the teenager from Wappingers Falls, N.Y., who claimed to have been abducted and raped by a group of white men.

The Brawley case was determined to have been a hoax by a grand jury and Mr. Sharpton was subsequently assessed a $65,000 judgment in a defamation suit for accusing a local prosecutor, Steven A. Pagones, of taking part in the attack.

When he failed to pay, Mr. Pagones's lawyer, Garry M. Bolnick, took the deposition looking for Mr. Sharpton's assets.

In the deposition, Mr. Sharpton said he made about $73,000 a year from the National Action Network, and was vague about any other income, including cash "love offerings" collected at churches where he preaches.

He said in the Christmas Day interview that he regrets parrying with the lawyer during the deposition. He also said his answers did not include references to property that he owned with his wife.

A recent filing with the election commission that is required of presidential candidates provided new details about Mr. Sharpton's income. He disclosed that in 2002 he earned $381,900 $78,000 from the National Action Network; $75,000 from Kensington Publishing, the publisher of his book "Al on America"; $25,000 from Pepsico for sitting on an advisory board; $3,900 from Inner City Broadcasting for a radio show; and $80,000 from various companies for consulting work.

Another $120,000 came from speeches and sermons through a company he identifies in his filing and in court papers as Rev. Als Productions. When no company by that name could be found, Mr. Sharpton said it was actually RevAls Communications, a corporate identity he created in 1999, of which Rev. Als Productions is a subsidiary.

A tax return for 2002 shows Mr. Sharpton's group, the National Action Network, reported $1.93 million in revenue, mostly from unidentified contributors.

Mr. Sharpton said the group has relatively few financial problems given the number of vendors it deals with.

But, he said: "If they are wrong, then the buck stops. I am the president, I am responsible, I am not saying we are infallible. But clearly when you are dealing with corporations, dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, you can have mistakes. You can have problems. When they have come to my attention, or to the attention of the board, or those in authority, we try to rectify, but this clearly doesn't show the width and breadth of the organization."

In many cases of claims against the National Action Network, though, creditors said they tried to talk with Mr. Sharpton or his aides to work out payment schedules of the debts. They said their overtures were either ignored or the arrangements were ultimately not met.

For instance, the National Action Network ran up a debt of $76,704.34 with 1-800-Limo-Center, a business based in Rochelle Park, N.J., which provided Mr. Sharpton with car service at cities around the country, said Howard Levi, a lawyer representing the car service. When the network failed to meet a court schedule to pay off the debt, a judgment was imposed. The remaining unpaid debt is about $30,000, Mr. Levi said.

Asked about the case, Mr. Sharpton objected only to calling the company a limousine service because, he said, he never rides in limousines.

The National Action Network also owes about $16,000 on a $25,222.83 bill from a conference it held at the Millennium Hotel in New York on Jan. 19, 2000, court records show.

The network also has a tax warrant against it for failure to pay New York State $15,446.31 in unemployment insurance. Christine Burling, a state labor department spokeswoman, said in a statement: "The Department of Labor reached out to the organization via telephone and we provided them with written notices numerous times, but have been unsuccessful in getting the National Action Network Inc. to take corrective action. As a result, the department had no choice but to issue warrants."

Mr. Sharpton said this week that he was unaware of the unpaid taxes and had instructed his lawyer to straighten the matter out.

This year, a small travel agency in Manhattan filed a lawsuit against the National Action Network and Mr. Sharpton, saying that the network refused to pay nearly $200,000 for travel, including a trip Mr. Sharpton took to Sudan, plus interest. That dispute is also pending.

Mr. Sharpton's entertainment promotion company, Raw Talent Inc., was dissolved in 2002 for failing to file tax returns for 1991, 1995 and 2002, and not paying taxes in 1991, 1992, and 1995 through 2002, state officials said.

Mr. Sharpton said that the issue of overdue taxes for Raw Talent is one item being reviewed in the federal audit, which he said was looking into what the I.R.S. feels may be undeclared income in four separate years. He said that the focus of the I.R.S. audit was reimbursed expenses and thus not subject to taxes.

At least one of Mr. Sharpton's recent debts has been fully paid. After he failed to pay the $65,000 he owed to Mr. Pagones for defamation damages, his friend Percy Sutton, the former Manhattan borough president, came to his aid.

With interest, supporters organized by Mr. Sutton paid Mr. Pagones nearly $80,000.