Guns, Bribes, and Benjamins

Can Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs Purchase Respectability and Buy His Way Out of the Club New York Shooting Trial?

Highbrow respectability for notorious gangsta rappers comes with a monumental price tag. Recently, badass Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, who faces 15 years behind bars if convicted for illegal possession of a gun, has been doling out "cash money," trying to buy lots of it, perhaps to keep from going to jail.

Indeed Combs has "juice": He lives in the "bling bling" Hamptons, socializes with Donald Trump and Martha Stewart, gives free turkeys around Thanksgiving, runs Daddy's House, and has vowed to carry on the work of Hosea Williams, the King-era civil rights leader who died of cancer last month. Combs even enlisted Jesse Jackson, so far the only prominent African American leader who has questioned Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau's motive in prosecuting him. But not everyone agrees "It's All About the Benjamins," Combs's hit rap about making money and influencing people.

A $50,000 donation from the indicted hip hop mogul was rejected by 100 Black Men, a prestigious think tank that counts Johnnie Cochran, former mayor David Dinkins, former Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton, publisher Earl Graves, and Congressman Charles Rangel among its members. Combs, who is represented by Cochran, offered the money for a scholarship fund just weeks before he is scheduled to stand trial in connection with the December 27, 1999, nightclub shooting of three people, sources in the group told the Voice.

illustration: Shawn Barber

"The way it was presented didn't make the organization comfortable," says one insider, a prominent young Harlem politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It did not seem like it was being offered genuinely." He claims that at an executive meeting of the powerful fraternal organization on November 28, a senior member approached him and said, "You into hip hop, right? Puff Daddy tried to give the organization a large contribution and the organization rejected it." He says the senior member told him that "the gift" was $50,000. When he asked why the money was not accepted, the senior member said "it appeared" that Combs, the head of Bad Boy Entertainment, was trying to buy support from the group. Such support, the senior member inferred, would have been given in the form of high-profile members of the group appearing as character witnesses at Combs's January 2 trial in state supreme court in Manhattan.


A $50,000 donation from the indicted hip hop mogul was rejected by 100 Black Men, a prestigious think tank that counts Johnnie Cochran, former mayor David Dinkins, former Manhattan borough president Percy Sutton, publisher Earl Graves, and Congressman Charles Rangel among its members.


"They don't like to reject scholarship money, but they are conservative when it comes to where the money is coming from," the Harlem politician points out. "A lot of these guys don't want to do anything to damage their own careers or the future of the organization."

After Mike Tyson was released from prison in 1995 for raping a black beauty pageant contestant, some members of 100 Black Men came out in support of the former heavyweight champ just days before Tyson made a controversial appearance at a "homecoming" rally in front of the historic Apollo Theatre in Harlem. "They were behind Mike because they had a good relationship with Don King," the politician insider says. "Tyson has a good name in Harlem." Noted trial attorney Paul Williams, president of 100 Black Men, declines to talk about the group's negotiations with Combs. "As far as I am concerned, there was no formal offer so there is no formal rejection," says Williams. "That's all I'm going to say."

It is not the first time that it has been alleged that Combs threw his Benjamins at people he felt could bail him out of serious trouble. Combs and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones were charged with bribery for allegedly offering Wardell Fenderson, Combs's driver on the night of the shooting, $50,000 and a ring that singer-actress Jennifer Lopez had given Combs for his birthday if he would claim the gun was his.

Fenderson is suing Combs for $3 million, claiming that Jones forced him to run red lights after the shooting. In court papers, Fenderson, 40, says that he picked up Combs, Lopez, and Jones around 2 a.m. outside Club New York in Times Square on December 27. Inside the club, three people had been shot, allegedly by Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, 20, a rapper who had come to the club with Combs and Lopez. Barrow has been charged with attempted murder in connection with the incident. As they fled in Combs's Lincoln Navigator, Fenderson says in court papers, Jones grabbed the steering wheel and screamed at him "not to stop and to continue driving" despite police orders to pull over. The Manhattan district attorney's office has alleged in court papers that while Combs's vehicle was speeding through 11 red lights, someone threw a 9mm handgun out a passenger window. When Fenderson saw a police barricade at 54th Street and Eighth Avenue, he had to stop, court papers say, despite his fear of other people in the SUV. His papers say he could see Jones was carrying a gun.

When police searched the SUV, they found a 9mm automatic on the floor in the front passenger side. Combs and Jones were charged with illegal possession of a gun. Although Lopez was questioned, she was not charged. In his court papers, Fenderson—who was not charged, and who reportedly is cooperating with prosecutors—does not mention that he saw Combs with a gun.

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