Rev. Al Cleared by Feds, does About-Face

via NY Daily News

A day after the feds dropped a criminal probe of Al Sharpton‘s finances, the activist minister said he’d learned a lesson.

“I have learned that everybody is not necessarily out to get you,” Sharpton told the Daily News. “And, I hope [prosecutors] have learned that everybody who questions the system is not trying to beat the system.”

That is a big shift in attitude for the usually combative Sharpton, who has claimed that investigators unfairly targeted him and his National Action Network because of his civil rights activism – as they did the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I’ve probably been under every investigation known to man,” Sharpton said last December as he blasted officials for slapping early-morning subpoenas on 10 of his closest aides.

Federal authorities were looking for tax fraud and probing allegations that Sharpton had extorted donations to NAN from corporate sponsors by threatening to boycott their products.

Sharpton came out fighting on that last accusation Tuesday, saying his sponsors had told him they were “insulted” by the suggestions of bribery.

“This was a total fabrication,” Sharpton said, adding that the high-profile probe failed to scare away donors, including Colgate, Pepsi and Wal-Mart.

“Some of the companies called me, outraged.”

The Harlem-based network raises as much as $3 million a year from corporate contributors, mainly for its annual convention, Sharpton said.

Federal officials declined to comment on the case, but sources told the Daily News the criminal probe had ended and the case was turned over to the Internal Revenue Service to pursue civilly.

The investigation was sparked by the failure of the National Action Network to file tax returns between 2003 and 2006, said Sharpton’s lawyer Michael Hardy.

Prosecutors also looked at charges of campaign finance fraud related to Sharpton’s 2004 presidential bid.

The IRS is still calculating what it believes Sharpton’s organization owes in taxes, estimated to be between $2 and $9 million. Sharpton has put up $1 million toward the final payout.

“I make money, so I can pay,” Sharpton said.

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