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But what's even more peculiar is that the Wu-Tang has no idea that Caruso is a rat. After the Voice started making inquiries about Caruso with the rap outfit's organization, group representatives confronted Caruso about stories that he's a snitch. He not only denied providing Wu-Tang information to the feds, he insisted he'd never informed on anybody. He told the Clan: "Don't believe anything you read about me in the newspapers. It's all bullshit. Haven't you ever read stuff about yourself that isn't true?" Also, when another of the group's representatives approached Ghostface Killah with documents and Voice articles conclusively proving Caruso is a snitch, the rapper threatened to beat up the messenger: "How could you say that about Mike? Mike's a good guy," he fumed. The world-class con man Caruso has managed to sucker even the Wu-Tang Clan, a group defined by its street savvy.
"Caruso is playing the Wu-Tang Clan like a violin," says downtown nightlife veteran Steven Lewis, who worked with Caruso at the Limelight. "He's a pathological liar and master manipulator. It's part of a pattern with him. He impresses one group of tough guys with what a big shot he is, betrays them, and then moves on to a next group. But eventually even the stupid ones catch on to what a scumbag he really is."
"The Wu-Tang Clan doesn't care if he's a robber or a drug dealer," says a source inside their camp. "That's probably what attracted them to Caruso in the first place. But they would never have worked with him if they knew he was a rat. For obvious reasons, the Wu-Tang Clan is very anti-law-enforcement. Having someone like Caruso as part of the organization could seriously lead to the breakup of the group."
Forty miles to the west of Pittsburgh stands the old-fashioned blue-collar town of Steubenville, Ohio. It was here, amid the steel mills and coal mines, that Dean Martin, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, and later Robert Diggsbetter known as Wu musical mastermind RZAwere born. The Clan owns a compound on the outskirts of town, where the self-styled ninja warriors of rap go to relax and practice target shooting before returning to Shaolin (Wu-speak for Staten Islanditself a borough best described as Copland meets The Sopranos). Steubenville is a rough-and-tumble place. For a town of only 22,000 people, it has more than its fair share of shootings and homicides. It also has a serious gang problem.
"It might surprise folks in the big city, but we have all kinds of street gangs in Steubenville," admits Jefferson County assistant prosecutor Chris Becker. "We get reports from the FBI all the time about gang-related activity in the area. We've got Bloods, Crips, Godz, you name it. They basically recruit from small-town America."
On a crisp autumn evening in November 1997, RZA's close friend Wisegod Allah was walking down a street in Steubenville, on his way to a recording session with Killarmy, the rap group he managed, when he passed a large party of Crips hanging out on the corner. Wisegod made the mistake of flashing a high-powered .357 Magnum handgun at the gang-bangers. The D.A. says that one of the Crips, Willie Hubbard, believed Wisegod had robbed his Mother Hubbard's home. The response was scattershot but lethal: Nine shooters fired over 60 bullets at Wisegod, only one of which hit the intended target, fatally wounding him in the head.
Steubenville detectives investigating the case traced one of the shootout's weapons to a batch bought from a local gun store by a colleague of the Wu-Tang Clan; the detectives also discovered an affiliation between the Wu-Tang and local Bloods. Wisegod's death touched off a string of retaliatory shootings. The homes of Walter "Pookie" Thompson and Donald "Ruckus" Harris, later convicted of the murder along with fellow Crips, were sprayed with gunfire.
A month later, on December 30, 1997, 23-year-old Robert Johnsona close friend of Cappadonnawas shot several times by two masked men on a residential block in the St. George district of Staten Island. Staten Island police doubt that Johnson's slaying was gang-related. But a gun left at the scene was traced back to the same batch of weapons purchased in Steubenville.
The gun deaths of a pair of Wu associates in such a short period of time was reportedly enough for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to launch an investigation into the group's murky extramusical activities. While no charges have been brought, the feds reportedly believe that the Clan gets associates to buy guns in Steubenville, which they then take to Staten Island to defend themselves. (The ATF refuses to confirm that the group is the subject of an investigation.)
"We're targets, man," Method Man told Vibe last year. "I mean, our lives are in danger. If I got a gun, it's for protection. You have motherfuckers who love your music, and would still rob your ass."
"Any alleged criminal activity that they may have engaged in is all in the past," says Wu-Tang lawyer Peter Frankel. "The guys are too much into their careers. There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest the Wu-Tang Clan is engaged in a current criminal conspiracy. As far as I know, the ATF probe concentrated not on members of the group, but people peripheral to the organization."