By Ron Howell, Newsday, Friday 21 October 1988
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has worked as a federal informant, tried to set up a meeting with black fugitive radical JoAnne Chesimard in 1983, according to activists who said they were approached by Sharpton.
The black activists said they feared Sharpton was trying to deliver Chesimard into the arms of federal agents, but said they had no proof.
One law-enforcement source, who declined to be identified but has detailed knowledge of Sharpton’s activities as an FBI informant, said this week that Sharpton was working as an informant at the time he sought to meet Chesimard. The source said that one of Sharpton’s assignments was to try to lead agents to Chesimard, who escaped from prison in 1979 after being convicted in the killing a New Jersey state trooper.
“It wasn’t a big massive operation. It was just a small shot, an everyday deal,” the source said. “I would equate it with setting up 10 traps a day trying to catch a fox . . .” He said Sharpton was not a major participant in the search for the woman, who goes by the African name Assata Shakur.
A top FBI official said that Sharpton was not used in any manner to lure Shakur into a trap. “This is the first I’m hearing of it, it’s bull———,” FBI Assistant Deputy Director Kenneth Walton, who led the Shakur investigation, said earlier this week.
Sharpton flatly denied trying to make contact with Shakur.
Newsday reported in January that beginning in 1983 Sharpton secretly supplied federal law enforcement agencies with information on boxing promoter Don King, reputed organized crime figures and black leaders and elected officials. And in a two-hour interview, Sharpton admitted to Newsday that he had assisted the government in drug and organized crime cases. He said he also accompanied undercover federal agents wearing body recorders to meetings with various subjects of federal investigations. He said he had allowed the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York to install a tapped telephone in his Brooklyn home.
Sharpton has insisted he never turned over information on black radicals or on King.
This week, Sharpton denied assertions by Ahmed Obafemi, a long-time activist, and Kwame Brathwaite, an activist and photographer who says Sharpton asked him to set up an encounter with Obafemi. Both men say that Obafemi acted as the intermediary in the failed discussions with Sharpton to reach Shakur.
Sharpton called the men “liars” and said they were possibly “police agents.” He charged they are part of “an element in the black community that has lost out . . . and that will fabricate any story out of jealousy because they have no following . . . ”
Obafemi, the national organizer for the New Afrikan People’s Organization, said Sharpton met with him in Manhattan at least four times in 1983, over a period of about two months. He said that Sharpton offered to donate money to help black revolutionaries running from the law and that Sharpton was particularly interested in setting up a meeting with Shakur, once referred to as the “soul” of the Black Liberation Army.
Sharpton told Obafemi he was representing two former Black Panthers, who wanted to see Shakur, according to Obafemi.
The ex-Panthers were supposedly trying to make useful contacts in case they had to flee the country someday, Obafemi said he was told.
“The first discussion was that they were close to her, that they had been in the [Black Panther] party with her and that they wanted to talk to her,” Obafemi said. “I wanted to find out who they were, but he said they really didn’t want to be known.”
Shakur was once a member of the Black Panther Party, but went underground around 1971 because she said she believed the group was being infiltrated by city and federal law enforcement officers.
The 1983 deal fell through at a final meeting when Sharpton insisted that money would be donated only if the two former Panthers could meet Shakur. Failing that, Obafemi said, Sharpton was interested in making any kind of “contact” with her or with any of her close associates also on the run from the law. “Naturally, I never got back” to him, said Obafemi, whose organization believes that blacks should have their own country within the United States and that they have the right to fight for it.
“Obviously we had to feel that a definite possibility existed he was working for the government, and we would have felt that way about him or anybody else who approached us in that manner,” said Chokwe Lumumba, an attorney and chairman of the New Afrikan People’s Organization.
Lumumba had been informed in 1983 by Obafemi about Sharpton’s proposal. The attorney said his organization was more interested in getting information about Sharpton’s motives than in receiving money from him. “I can’t say that we were able to make any definite conclusions” about whether Sharpton was acting as an agent for the government, Lumumba said.
Both Lumumba and Obafemi denied knowing where Shakur was at the time.
Sharpton’s first broached his interest in Shakur during a chance encounter with Brathwaite, a black nationalist, Brathwaite said. Brathwaite said he happened to run into Sharpton one day in midtown but he could not remember the month. Already acquainted with each other from entertainment circles, the two men started talking and Sharpton “said he wanted to make a donation to Assata,” Brathwaite said.
A day or two later, Brathwaite told Obafemi of the offer. “I told him to watch out,” said Brathwaite. “I knew that authorities were trying to find out where she [Assata Shakur] was and that they were trying to get close to somebody who was close to her . . . And then I just knew that he’s always been a hustler.”
Last year, Newsday disclosed that Shakur was given political asylum in Cuba and was living there with her daughter, now 14 years old. She is probably the most sought-after of the 1970s radicals linked to bank robberies and police killings over a 10-year span.
The specific amount of the contribution Sharpton said he was prepared to make in 1983 on behalf of the ex-Panthers was not discussed, Obafemi said; but Sharpton said the prospective contributors gained the money by “ripping off the system,” Obafemi recalled.
He said that at least two of the meetings occurred in a luxurious apartment at 30 Lincoln Plaza, near Lincoln Center. That was the building where, according to a law enforcement source and a report published in the Feb. 2, 1988 edition of The Village Voice, a federal agent using the name Victor Quintana set up an apartment in 1983 or earlier to lure boxing world denizens suspected of illegal activity. Quintana in that year ensnared Sharpton into working for the FBI, New York Newsday reported in January.
The Village Voice article reported that apartment was on the 29th floor, but Obafemi could not recall the floor on which he had his rendezvous with Sharpton. Sharpton lives in Brooklyn and Obafemi said he did not explain why Sharpton had access to the apartment. “He made me think it was his,” said Obafemi. “I was saying (to myself), ’What kind of money must they have to have a spot in here.’ He had the keys and everything.”
Sharpton denied this week ever being in the building.
Obafemi said that up until 1983 he knew Sharpton only as the head of a youth organization, the National Youth Movement, and as someone with vague connections in the entertainment world.
Obafemi is the ex-husband of Nehanda Obafemi, once known as Cheri Laverne Dalton, who is still wanted by the federal government in connection with the notorious Brink’s robbery which took place seven years ago yesterday. She is allegedly connected to the group of black and white revolutionaries convicted in the Brink’s heist. A guard and two police officers were killed in that incident, which took place upstate near Nyack.
In 1983, Obafemi was busy trying to gain support in the black community for the people arrested in the Brink’s case. In October of that year, several blacks and whites were convicted in that robbery and in the highly planned breakout of Shakur from prison in 1979.
The law enforcement source implicating Sharpton in the hunt for Assata Shakur said that Sharpton was also, secondarily, trying to help agents get other fugitives, especially Mutulu Shakur, who was still on the run at that time. Mutulu Shakur, no relation to Assata, was later apprehended and convicted in connection with the Brink’s robbery and the escape of Assata Shakur.
Robert E. Kessler contributed to this story.
[***The following appeared in the City version***Brathwaite is the brother of Elombe Brath, an official of a black nationalist organization called the Patrice Lumumba Coalition. Brath and several associates have been opposed to Sharpton because of his FBI ties. ]