Sharpton sues HBO, alleging defamation
'I will not bend, buckle or bow to a smear campaign'
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Rev. Al Sharpton is seeking $1 billion in punitive and compensatory damages in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against HBO, charging "defamation with malice and gross irresponsibility," said Sanford Rubenstein, Sharpton's attorney.
The focus of the suit is an FBI surveillance tape recorded 19 years ago showing a conversation between Sharpton and a government agent posing as a drug dealer.
The tape aired on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" Tuesday in a segment about Michael Franzese, a former Colombo crime family boss who organized gambling for pro athletes.
In a written statement issued Tuesday, HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said: "We believe we have an informative segment airing on 'Real Sports' that is focused on telling the Michael Franzese story. HBO Sports stands by its reporting."
Sharpton, a civil rights activist, said the conversation was taped as part of a government investigation into whether boxing promoter Don King had ties to organized crime.
Tuesday, Sharpton said he would file a lawsuit against HBO Wednesday morning if the network did not air an unedited version of the tape, which he said shows he never participated in a drug deal.
"We have elected one president who smoked pot and didn't inhale. Another one that was arrested drunk driving. I certainly would run as one who was able to not be stung by those that propose a crime to me," Sharpton said.
Sharpton told the Associated Press that the taped conversation dated to 1983, when self-described mobster Michael Franzese and an undercover FBI agent posing as a Latin American businessman approached him to discuss promoting boxing matches and musical events.
Sharpton, 47, told AP that during the course of the conversation, the undercover agent began discussing a cocaine deal. The tape shows Sharpton being offered thousands of dollars to arrange the sale of cocaine.
"The guy had come to me," Sharpton said in an interview with AP. "In the middle of conversation he started talking about how he could cut me in on a cocaine deal. I didn't know what this guy was on about. I didn't know if he was armed. I was scared so I just nodded my head to everything he said and then he left."
Sharpton said he filed the suit not just for himself, but also for people around the country "who have been victimized by dirty tricks."
"I will not bend, buckle or bow to a smear campaign, and on behalf of many others that have had to face this, I am filing this lawsuit," Sharpton said.
Also named in the suit filed in New York State Supreme Court are HBO Real Sports; HBO's parent company, AOL Time Warner (which is also the parent of CNN); reporter Bernard Goldberg, the journalist who reported the story; and Michael Franzese.
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