- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) On 33 occasions, the Rev. Al Sharpton and two associates declared that a little-known prosecutor in outlying Dutchess County had kidnapped, abused and raped a 15-year-old black girl, Tawana Brawley.
They were wrong, according to an intensive 1987 state investigation.
Sixteen years later, as Mr. Sharpton begins a campaign for president, former Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones wonders whether the sharp-tongued preacher who publicly flayed him will ever offer an apology.
"It's very frustrating that the public forgets what Sharpton did to Steven," said Garry Bolnick, Mr. Pagones' attorney. "We would ask Sharpton to do what's right, to come out and say, 'I was wrong. … He had nothing to do with the Tawana Brawley affair.'"
Mr. Sharpton, who was forced to pay Mr. Pagones $65,000 for defamation, did not respond to requests for a response this week. But through the years, he has never backed away from his role in the Brawley case.
"Apologize for what?" he asked last year in an interview with the Associated Press. "For believing a young lady?"
Mr. Pagones watched last month when Mr. Sharpton filed papers as a Democratic candidate for the White House, a photo oppportunity that illuminated the pair's divergent paths since the racially charged case exploded.
Back then, Mr. Sharpton was derided by many as a racial provocateur. When the teenage Tawana told her story of abduction and rape by a half-dozen white law enforcement officers, Mr. Sharpton flew to her aid.
Lacking physical evidence or eyewitnesses, Mr. Sharpton repeatedly identified Mr. Pagones as Tawana's attacker. The prosecutor later recalled that the first time he had seen Tawana Brawley, she was on television.
"If we're lying, sue us," Mr. Sharpton challenged Mr. Pagones. A specially impaneled grand jury, called by Gov. Mario Cuomo, determined Tawana's story was phony; 13 alibi witnesses testified for Mr. Pagones.
Mr. Pagones did sue, winning his $65,000 verdict against Mr. Sharpton in 1998 a fraction of the multimillion-dollar penalty he had sought. Both sides viewed the award as vindication, the only time they ever agreed.
The jury decision ended the legal wrangling, but the Brawley affair lingered even as the increasingly moderate Mr. Sharpton's political legitimacy grew.
Mr. Sharpton has survived more than the Brawley episode, though.
He endured tax-evasion charges, disclosures of his work as an FBI informant and charges that his rhetoric about "white interlopers" incited an arson attack on a white-owned Harlem business that left eight persons dead.
Yet Mr. Sharpton emerged as a credible Democratic Party figure, posting decent if losing vote totals in primary races for the U.S. Senate and New York mayor. He became a prominent voice against Navy bombing in Vieques; he urged peaceful dissent when the city faced racially charged police shootings.
But as Mr. Sharpton soared, Mr. Pagones sank.
As far back as 1988, Mr. Pagones claimed the reverend's charges had inflicted an emotional and physical toll: insomnia, stomach ailments, anxiety attacks.
Today, the father of two is divorced and has given up his law career to work upstate as a private investigator. He spent more than $300,000 on the legal case against Mr. Sharpton and the two other Brawley advisers.
Mr. Pagones did not even collect most of his judgment from Mr. Sharpton. Instead, Mr. Sharpton's friends and supporters like lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. and businessman Percy Sutton covered the debt.
In his AP interview, Mr. Sharpton said he still believed Tawana, who never testified in court. The woman eventually left New York, changed her name and disappeared; she still owes Mr. Pagones almost $500,000 in defamation money.

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