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Charges of fraud fly in the Tawana Brawley case

The 90-plus degree heat wave in New York is easily matched by the heat generated in the Tawana Brawley case, which has seen new twists and high media drama in the last few days. Grand-jury testimony was given yesterday by a former aide to the Rev. Al Sharpton, an adviser to the family of the black teen-ager who claims she was kidnapped and sexually abused by at least six white men last November.

Earlier, Perry McKinnon, who worked with Mr. Sharpton from January until May, laid out to reporters a tale of deception by Sharpton and lawyers Alton Maddox and C.Vernon Mason, who represent the Brawleys. He told a local CBS station, WCBS-TV, that the advisers had doubts about the veracity of the story told by Tawana, but that they were more interested in pursuing the case ``politically'' than legally.

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The advisers immediately set out to discredit Mr. McKinnon, calling him a liar and saying he was only a driver for Sharpton. McKinnon, who told the New York Daily News that the case was ``nothing but a pack of lies,'' submitted to a lie detector test while answering questions on television. The machine indicated that he was telling the truth.

On Wednesday, Phil Donahue, the television talk-show host, brought his program to Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn where Glenda Brawley, Tawana's mother, is living. Mrs. Brawley is there taking sanctuary while refusing to answer a subpoena to appear before the state grand jury to answer questions about her daughter's case.

In a tumultuous show where little was actually heard from Mrs. Brawley, but much was heard about how racism and a cover-up by state officials were preventing the family from cooperating on the case, few direct questions were answered.

Passions were high as audience members stepped up to Mr. Donahue's microphone. Some audience members pleaded for Mr. Maddox, Mr. Mason, and the Rev. Mr. Sharpton to lay the facts on the table. Others asked why blacks always have to prove themselves before white justice. And there was a reference from one of the Brawleys' advisers about going to the Democratic convention in Atlanta this summer and closing it down.

State Attorney General Robert Abrams brought McKinnon before the grand jury after telling reporters that the former aide's statements, if true, show that ``attorneys Maddox and Mason and Rev. Sharpton have been consciously perpetrating a hoax not only on the black community, but on all the people of the state of New York.''

Mr. Abrams would not comment on whether obstruction of justice charges against the advisers could be raised in the case. But he said there were ``grave ethical questions'' that he will address at the end of the investigation.

US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani says his office may want to talk to McKinnon, based on accounts that money solicited for the Brawley family was received through the mail. If this story is one of deception, it raises questions of possible mail fraud.

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