NEW YORK — They are lightning rods in a racial thunderstorm, the most controversial combatants in a bizarre, emotionally charged cause celebre that has gripped this city for the past seven months.
Almost from the first, Tawana Brawley's three advisers have overshadowed the teen-ager who received national attention last November with her claims that she had been kidnaped and sexually assaulted by six white men, one of whom had a badge. The authorities, she and her family charged, were shielding her attackers.
Since then, the advisers--C. Vernon Mason and Alton H. Maddox Jr., both lawyers, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a flamboyant Pentecostal preacher without a congregation--have gained such a hold over the Brawley family that they were able to prevent Glenda Brawley, the 16-year-old girl's mother, from appearing in court the day she was cited for criminal contempt after refusing to testify before a special grand jury investigating her daughter's allegations.
The lawyers' behavior prompted an exasperated state Supreme Court Justice Angelo J. Ingrassia to complain: "If my toleration level were low, I would have exploded a long time ago."
The advisers then directed Mrs. Brawley to seek sanctuary in a black church, where she remains. Subsequently, they taunted police to come into the religious refuge and arrest her so she could serve her 30-day jail sentence. The advisers, who have charged New York officials with racism almost daily, promised to take their cause to the streets outside next month's Democratic convention in Atlanta.
Now, it appears that the case may be exploding around them. Mason, Maddox and Sharpton have come under scrutiny by state and federal investigators. A former Sharpton aide and an electronic surveillance specialist, who claims that the preacher hired him to spy on the two lawyers, have questioned Brawley's story and her advisers' motives. Serious questions also have been raised about the way funds have been collected to finance the girl's case.
Sharpton, Mason and Maddox have branded all such allegations as lies.
Federal officials now are scrutinizing Sharpton's income tax liability and inquiring into how the booming-voiced, barrel-chested former boy preacher from Brooklyn, with friends in the music and boxing businesses, earns a living. The minister has admitted not filing tax returns for a number of years. The New York State Organized Crime Task Force also is examining allegations that Sharpton engaged in a scheme to scalp tickets his National Youth Movement received from black entertainers.
Group's Records Subpoenaed
New York Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams, who was appointed special prosecutor in the Brawley case, has subpoenaed the National Youth Movement's bank records to determine whether any funds collected by the charity may have been siphoned off by Sharpton. The Times was unable to contact the National Youth Movement on Tuesday because its telephone had been disconnected. The Foundation Center Library, which keeps track of grant-making agencies, could find no record of the movement's activities.
Abrams' interest in Sharpton's organization began last year when it was discovered that the group had not filed legally required reports with New York's secretary of state. After threats of a subpoena, a Sharpton aide arrived at the attorney general's office with a shopping bag full of records. Investigators soon determined that they were not adequate financial statements, a spokesman for Abrams said.
U.S. Atty. Rudolph W. Giuliani is looking into the fund-raising practices of Brawley's legal team. Perry J. McKinnon, a former security guard and Sharpton aide who has called Brawley's story "a pack of lies," has been interviewed by federal investigators. Samuel M. McClease, who says he was hired by Sharpton to record conversations the preacher had with Mason and Maddox, has been subpoenaed by Giuliani to appear before a grand jury.
Tale of Recording Devices
McClease asserted in an interview with WCBS-TV that he was employed by Sharpton in February to install recording devices at the minister's home and in Mason's home and office.
"To put it as plainly as possible, he (Sharpton) felt that the game is over with, that the ball was going to be dropped really soon and that he needed something to get out of this situation," McClease said.
He said a two-hour segment of tape was particularly damaging to the Brawley cause.
During that taped session, Brawley's advisers frankly assessed her case, McClease said. "This is bull," he quoted one participant at the meeting as saying.
McClease said that on another tape Brawley's advisers "discussed the four days of the alleged kidnaping not to be a kidnaping, but actually a four-day party, partying in the area with a police officer who was white."