Jillian Kay Melchior: Why Do Suspicious Fires Keep Destroying Key Al Sharpton Records?Posted: March 11, 2015
And why didn’t Sharpton comply with tax and campaign filing requirements?
Jillian Kay Melchior writes: As Al Sharpton ran for mayor of New York City in 1997 and for president in 2003, fires at his offices reportedly destroyed critical financial records, and he subsequently failed to comply with tax and campaign filing requirements.
The first fire began in the early hours of April 10, 1997, in a hair-and-nail salon one floor below Sharpton’s campaign headquarters at 70 West 125th Street. From the start, investigators deemed the fire “suspicious” because of “a heavy volume of fire on arrival” and because many of the doors remained unlocked after hours, according to the New York Fire Department’s fire-and-incident report.
“The 1997 fire occurred five days before Tax Day and, the New York Post reported, ‘just after Sharpton announced that he would open his financial records.’ After the fire, Sharpton said he would seek an extension because crucial financial records had been destroyed.”
As the fire crept upward into Sharpton’s headquarters, it destroyed nearly everything, including computers, files, and campaign records, the Reverend’s spokesperson at the time told Newsday, adding that “we have lost our entire Manhattan operation.” But a source knowledgeable about the investigation tells National Review Online that Sharpton’s office was mostly empty, and that the damage was not extensive.
Top city officials, including then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, said initial suspicions centered on the hair-and-nail salon, not on Sharpton’s campaign, Newsday reported. The fire department sent the case as an arson/explosion investigation to the New York Police Department. By the time of publication of this report, the NYPD had not provided the records requested by National Review Online on December 16, 2014, but it confirmed that the investigation had been closed without an arrest.
FDNY’s report references a “flammable liquid,” and firefighters’ photos of the scene show traces of an incendiary puddle. Another photo captures what appears to be a singed rag that someone is holding next to a fuse box, perhaps because that is where it was found. But a 2003 Newsday article says “the 1997 fire started when a curling iron overheated in an adjoining beauty parlor.” NRO could find no other sources referencing a curling iron as the cause, and the fire department’s reports make no mention of it, either.
As the mayoral campaign continued, Sharpton missed tax and campaign disclosure deadlines.
The 1997 fire occurred five days before Tax Day and, the New York Post reported, “just after Sharpton announced that he would open his financial records.” After the fire, Sharpton said he would seek an extension because crucial financial records had been destroyed. It’s unclear whether that extension was granted.
“During the campaign, Sharpton criticized his opponents for having a ‘penthouse mentality,’ calling one a ‘limousine liberal.’ But while his competitors had voluntarily released their income-tax returns to the media, Sharpton had not even filed his yet, much less publicly disclosed them.”
In July 1997, Sharpton also missed the deadline to file his personal financial-disclosure forms with the New York City Conflict of Interests Board, violating a legal requirement and risking a fine of up to $10,000. He said the destruction of records in the fire had prevented him from filing. When Sharpton finally filed a year later, in July 1998 — months after the November 4, 1997 elections — he paid a $100 late fee. It’s unclear what information his filing did or did not contain; in accordance with Section 12-110(f) of the administrative code, the board shredded Sharpton’s financial-disclosure forms more than a decade ago.
During the campaign, Sharpton criticized his opponents for having a “penthouse mentality,” calling one a “limousine liberal.” But while his competitors had voluntarily released their income-tax returns to the media, Sharpton had not even filed his yet, much less publicly disclosed them, Newsday noted.
He finally filed his tax returns on August 15, publicly offering only estimates of his earnings that year, which he said were between $50,000 and $60,000.
A New York Daily News report a few weeks later alleged that Sharpton owed $100,000 in overdue federal and state taxes and fines, reportedly prompting him to finally release his tax records. A federal tax lien assessed in 2005 also estimated that Sharpton’s nonprofit, National Action Network, owed more than $15,000 for 1997.
In early September 1997, the New York City Campaign Finance Board cited Sharpton for accepting political contributions in excess of the limits established in the Campaign Finance Act, the New York Daily News reported.
Six years later, on January 23, 2003 — one day after Sharpton filed paperwork to create a presidential exploratory committee — another fire caused heavy damage at National Action Network, located at 1941 Madison Avenue….(read more)
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center.
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