The Smoking Gun alleges the FBI originally targeted Sharpton because of his ties to boxing promoter Don King. Sharpton later provided information on the Mafia, especially New York's powerful Genovese crime family.
Agents involved with Sharpton said information he provided was often useful. In one case, the FBI was able to get court permission to bug telephones at the home of Genovese boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante and some of his top lieutenants and associates.
The FBI allegedly "flipped" Sharpton by using an undercover agent who claimed to be a drug dealer and taped a conversation about cocaine. Agents told the website that prosecuting Sharpton based on the tape would have been "a reach," but they still convinced him to become an informant to avoid prosecution.
The agents said Sharpton was doing dangerous work during his four years as an informant.
In a book published last year, "The Rejected Stone," Sharpton said he had been "set up by the government." He accused agents of leaking "false information."
In an interview Saturday with the Smoking Gun, Sharpton said any information he gave the FBI was aimed at curbing drug dealing in black neighborhoods and helping black musicians cheated by recording companies.
Sharpton told the New York Daily News he went to the FBI after getting threats because of his efforts to get more blacks working on the business side of the music industry.
“If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant -- you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” he said.
He said he encourages children to "work with law enforcement."
“I was never told I was an informant or I had a number or none of that,” he said. “Whether or not they used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes, I don’t know.”
Sharpton, 59, a Baptist minister, served as youth director of Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket when he was only 15. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was often a divisive figure in New York, especially controversial for his strong support of Tawana Brawley, a teenager who said she had been gang-raped by a group of white men, including police officers.
In recent years, Sharpton has had a higher profile with a show on MSNBC. He is a strong supporter of President Obama and has been a guest at occasions like Michelle Obama's 50th birthday party and a state dinner for the president of France.
[The Smoking Gun]
[NY Daily News]