By Curtis Skinner
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton said on Tuesday that he had cooperated with a 1980's federal probe into New York organized crime but lashed out at media reports labeling him a mob turncoat, saying he had never been a criminal.
Sharpton told reporters that the city's main tabloids, the Daily News and New York Post, were mistaken when they published cover stories that labeled him a "mob snitch" and "Rev Rat."
"I was not and am not a rat, because I wasn't with the rats," Sharpton told reporters outside the Harlem headquarters of his group, the National Action Network. "I am a cat. I chase rats."
On Monday, The Smoking Gun website published documents that appeared to contain intelligence gathered by informants in an FBI sting into New York's Genovese crime family. The documents did not name the informants but the website said Sharpton was one.
Sharpton refused to say if he was one of the informants. He said he had cooperated with authorities three decades ago by trying to get suspected mobsters to repeat threats made against him over his campaign to help black concert promoters into the music industry.
"They were threatening to kill me," he said.
He said he recorded the conversations over a two-year period.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday.
Sharpton, who also hosts the "Politics Nation" show on MSNBC, said his 1996 book, "Go and Tell Pharaoh," described the threats and his cooperation with officials.
"In this situation, I did what was right," he said. "And I did what I tell kids everyday all over this country that they should do. And that is deal with getting guns and crime out of their community and cooperate with the law."
The headlines appeared just days before Sharpton's National Action Network holds a convention in New York that will feature New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama as speakers.
"It's very interesting that many of us are condemned for not fighting crime, and now we're being condemned for fighting crime," Sharpton said.
(Reporting By Curtis Skinner; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)