Sharpton's Lawyers Say Feds have Dropped Tax Probe

Federal prosecutors have decided not to seek criminal charges against the Rev. Al Sharpton over his chronic tax problems, his lawyers said Tuesday.

The investigation was disbanded only after the government received a down payment Monday topping $1 million on a tax debt that had threatened to land Sharpton before a grand jury, the minister's lawyers said.

Sharpton said Tuesday he was glad to be in the clear. "I'm just grateful to God and my family, and all of our supporters," he said.

More payments will follow as Sharpton clears up a decade's worth of delinquent tax bills related to his personal business interests and his Harlem civil rights group.

Prosecutors and Internal Revenue Service agents spent months investigating Sharpton's finances but ultimately concluded that his tax problems were better handled as a civil matter, his lawyers said.

The IRS and New York state and city tax agencies claim that Sharpton and his organization, the National Action Network, collectively owe millions of dollars in back taxes and penalties.

The exact amount Sharpton owes has not been revealed by either the government or Sharpton's lawyers, but there is evidence the debt is sizable.

The IRS obtained a $931,397 lien against Sharpton. City and state officials said he owned them another $933,577. Separately, the National Action Network said in its most recent tax filing that it owed at least $1.9 million in payroll taxes and related interest.

Sharpton, who was defiant when the probe became public in December, claiming it was part of a government smear campaign, sounded more contrite Tuesday.

He said both he and the civil rights group would clean up their books and complete a reorganization intended to ensure the group's long-term fiscal stability.

"We learn from every experience to be more cautious, more accountable," he told The Associated Press.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn declined to comment.

The investigation was the latest in a string of government inquiries into Sharpton's finances, dating to his earliest days as a civil rights figure.

Each time, he has emerged unscathed. In the late 1980s, he was acquitted of stealing from a nonprofit group. A state case accusing him of evading income taxes also fizzled; he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return and paid a small fine.

Michael Hardy, Sharpton's attorney, said he hoped the resolution of the criminal investigation would silence suggestions that the minister was profiting personally from the dealings of his nonprofit group.

"I think this really clears the air for everyone," Hardy said.

Sharpton's personal income has grown substantially in recent years, due to lucrative speaking engagements, book royalties, TV appearances and a nationally syndicated radio show. That show, alone, earns him several hundred thousand dollars a year. His aides said he now draws only a token salary from the National Action Network.

The end of the criminal probe was first reported Tuesday by the New York Daily News.