Politics & Policy

Suspicious Fires at Al Sharpton’s Offices

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.

As I write today at National Review, investigators deemed the 1997 fire at Sharpton’s campaign headquarters “suspicious” from the start. It began at a hair-and-nail salon one floor below, and FDNY photos show both traces of an incendiary puddle and what appears to be a singed rag next to a fuse box.

The fire department sent the case to the NYPD as an arson/explosion investigation. We’d requested those records nearly three months ago and haven’t yet received them, but NYPD confirmed the investigation was closed without an arrest.

Then there’s the 2003 fire. FDNY lists its cause as “NFA [Not Fully Ascertained] — Heat from electrical equipment (Extension Cords),” and the chief fire marshal told the New York Times that “both an eyewitness account and a physical examination by fire marshals point to the cause as accidental.”

But a few strange stories emerged about that eyewitness:

According to the fire-and-incident report, a maintenance man named J. D. Livingston discovered the fire. (His name is listed in the report as both Joseph Dennis Livingstone and Joseph D. Livingston.)

Livingston, who immigrated to the United States from Guyana, died in March 2014. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement confirmed to NRO that he was living in the U.S. illegally after overstaying his visa, though it’s unclear when it expired.

Carl Redding, who worked with Sharpton but publicly criticized him after a personal falling out, tells me Sharpton paid Livingston under the table. “I always heard that he was unofficially homeless and ended up living at the [National Action] Network,” Redding says.

Another source close to Sharpton described Livingston as a good man who was fiercely loyal to, and heavily dependent on, Sharpton. He said he saw Sharpton pay Livingston in cash, and also alleged that Livingston was living in the office of National Action Network.

In an interview with NRO, Sharpton says Livingston “did some side work with me, and that’s all that I’m willing to say about someone deceased.” He adds: “I didn’t pay anyone under the table. Under what table?” Sharpton says Livingston’s wages were reported and covered in a tax repayment. He refused to show NRO any proof, saying he would “absolutely not” give records for “someone who’s deceased and can’t give permission.” As for Livingston living at National Action Network, Sharpton says, “not to my knowledge.”

According to the fire-and-incident report, Livingston’s interview with fire investigators occurred “in the presence of his attorney, Michael Hardy,” who is also Sharpton’s longtime lawyer. Kelty, the fire marshal who was at the scene initially, tells me that it’s routine for fire marshals to speak with maintenance men or superintendents to collect information about the building. He also said it’s critically important for fire investigators to speak to the first person at the scene of a fire — in this case, Livingston.

Kelty adds, “I could probably count on my hand — and have fingers left over — how many times I have talked to a superintendent or maintenance worker and had an attorney there. It’s just extremely unusual.”

And there appear to be some holes in Livingston’s account, which you can read about here.

One source close to Sharpton found the whole situation “fishy”:

It doesn’t make sense, and it never made sense. The fact that Livingston was living there — I think probably Sharpton or somebody in that camp said, “Just make this a fire.” After the fires, there was a lot of discussion about, “We can’t do this,” asking for delays because our paperwork was there in the filing cabinets, and they allegedly got destroyed. A lot of pertinent paperwork and accounting stuff was there. Now, everyone who knew J.D. knew that he was a great individual and a nice human being, but I also think he was desperate, in the sense that he needed Sharpton to survive. And that makes me concerned that if you have that kind of reliance on an individual, maybe things went awry.

A few more FDNY photos show just how massive the 2003 fire was.

Read the whole report here.

Jillian Kay Melchior — Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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