Sharpton aides raided in finance probe

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The Rev Al Sharpton, an activist for African-American rights and a former presidential contender, has alleged he is being victimised by the US government after federal agents visited the homes of associates as part of a new investigation into his financial dealings.

In a series of pre-dawn raids on Wednesday, agents of the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI banged on the doors of homes of as many as 10 associates of Mr Sharpton to subpoena financial records for submission to an investigating grand jury before a 26 December deadline.

"It was like a raid. They converged on everybody," said Carl Redding, who was among those who received the unexpected wake-up calls. Mr Redding served as staff manager for Mr Sharpton and his Harlem-based National Action Network for eight years. He left the post in 1998, however.

With no comment from government officials, the exact direction of the investigation was not clear. But it seemed that investigators are requiring that all parties provide financial records both personal to Mr Sharpton and his wife, as well as relating to the Action Network dating back to 2001. Mr Sharpton was not among those subpoenaed in the latest raids.

Mr Sharpton complained yesterday that he was obvious prey for federal authorities because of his record of defending black rights. He suggested that the new investigation was revenge on the part of the US Justice Department for a march that he led in Washington recently to protest at the arrest of six black teenagers in Louisiana on hate-crime charges.

"Every major civil rights leader I can think of has had to face this kind of harassment," he said. "I am not in their league, but I expected that that would become my lot." He added: "I'm used to running uphill with a load on my back."

Mr Sharpton has already run into trouble over the financing of his quixotic attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. He denied wrongdoing in 2005 after being accused of failing to report to the Federal Election Commission tens of thousands of dollars he had received in contributions but agreed to repay $100,000 (50,000) of taxpayers' money that he wrongly received.

A spokesman for Mr Sharpton said the Action Network was already co-operating fully with the inquiry and he had "zero idea" what investigators were looking for. His lawyer, Michael Hardy, said: "I can't think of a time when Mr Sharpton wasn't under investigation."