Guns, Bribes, and Benjamins

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

Harvey Slovis, the lawyer who was representing Combs at his grand jury appearance, "attempted through verbal objection and physical gesture to convey to Mr. Bogdanos that [he] was prejudicing the proceeding against Mr. Combs," Brafman and Cochran claim. "However, rather than rein in his questioning, Mr. Bogdanos chose to continue with his adversarial cross-examination aimed at obtaining [an indictment] against Mr. Combs." That left the grand jury with the impression that Combs "had repeatedly been found guilty of weapons possession and assault, despite the fact that he has no such convictions," the lawyers claim.

In his written response, Matthew Bogdanos fired back, asserting that Cochran's and Brafman's argument that the indictment should be thrown out because of the unconstitutional cross-examination of Combs "distorts what took place" in the grand jury. The prosecutor insisted that it was Combs and not he who brought up Combs's criminal history.

illustration: Shawn Barber

"Prior to that, [Combs] had not been asked a single question about his [past] misconduct (although it would have been appropriate to do so)," Bogdanos offers. "Not until [Combs] attempted to manipulate the grand jurors by raising his prior misconduct and then lying about it was he asked anything about that misconduct."

Bogdanos denies that he asked Combs about every crime he is alleged to have committed. "Not even close," the prosecutor writes. He recalls asking Combs about "his unprovoked beating" of Steven Stout, an assault Combs allegedly had carried out with Paul Offord and another man, his gunpoint intimidation of New York Post photographer Gary Miller, and his assault on one Edwin Altemar-Perez. "He was specifically not asked about many other criminal activities about which the prosecutor had a good-faith basis to inquire," Bogdanos reiterates.

The prosecutor explains that he could have badgered Combs about a November 1997 case in which two stolen semiautomatic guns were found in his rented Rolls-Royce in Moline, Illinois, a March 1998 incident in which two stolen semi-automatic guns that were found in a room he rented at the Westin Hotel in Washington, D.C., and cocaine residue that was discovered in his Lincoln Navigator.

As for the altercation with Harvey Slovis in the grand jury room, Combs's lawyers bend the facts a little, according to Bogdanos. "After Mr. Slovis stormed out, [Combs] insisted on continuing without [his attorney] present," the prosecutor claims, adding that it was he and Combs who "together went outside into the hallway and convinced Mr. Slovis that the cross-examination was fair and that Mr. Slovis should reenter." Bogdanos recalls that when Slovis eventually joined him and Combs in a subsequent conversation outside the hearing of the jury, he assured Combs that he "had no interest in questioning him about prior incidents, but that if [Combs] insisted on bringing them up he should expect to be questioned about them." He also claims that he reminded Combs that he did not have to talk about "any incidents" other than the Club New York shooting.

"Having made that choice, he cannot now hide behind an attempt at revisionist history," Bogdanos argues. He charges that Combs's lawyers never mention in their court papers that he had asked the jury to "disregard any arguments" between himself and Slovis, and that he had laid out guidelines under which the panel could consider testimony about crimes not related to the Club New York incident. Writes Bogdanos: "The grand jurors are presumed to have followed all such instructions."

Admirers and critics alike say that if Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs is reaching out for help, he is appealing to the wrong people.

Some believe that in his initial appearances before the media to profess his innocence, Combs never expressed genuine sorrow for what happened to Natania Ebone Reuben, the Brooklyn mother of two who was shot in the face during the Club New York gunplay. Reuben is the most seriously injured of the three victims. Combs, they add, should have mentioned Reuben by name and publicly offered to do anything he could to ease the suffering of a woman who ran her own beauty salon.

Instead of appearing contrite, they charge, Combs comes off as another arrogant celebrity gangsta rapper, profiling for the paparazzi, and seeking to portray himself as a victim of his own success. Although a script was written for Reuben, she could not have articulated her outrage any better than she did in commenting on the media's behavior a couple of days after the shooting.

"When I left the district attorney's office Monday morning, several photographers were assembled outside, waiting for a glimpse of Sean Puffy Combs, or any of his entourage," Reuben said, sobbing throughout her emotional statement. "As I stood on my crutches, my face bandaged so that my own children are not afraid and tormented to see me, these same photographers pointed their cameras the other way. I am not famous. I do not have a publicity machine. I do not have a billion dollars of insurance on my body, or any of my body parts for that matter. Does that make me any less valuable?"

With these and other unanswered questions about his volatile personality, his alleged guns, his dirty Benjamins, and his alleged bribe, can Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs now purchase respectability, and buy his way out of the Club New York shooting trial?

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