Puff! Goes the Weasel

An Impersonator Witness and Alleged Testilying Redefine Rap Mogul’s Trial

Are some groupies so obsessed with Sean "Puffy" Combs that they would do anything, even lie their asses off, to be part of the rap mogul's sensational gun-possession and bribery trial?

Leonard Taylor did.

"And I am so sorry," confesses Taylor, a wannabe bouncer and hip hop junkie who had told me he worked at Club New York on the night of the shooting and weaved an intriguing tale about "club brawlers," a fifth column of bodyguards who ride shotgun for Combs. "I was just looking for publicity," he adds wryly. "I lied." Puff! Goes the weasel.

It's the kind of damaging lie that could help send Combs, 31, to prison for 15 years.

In the Combs case, it seems that Leonard Taylor is not the exception. Following a dramatic fifth day of testimony on Monday in state supreme court in Manhattan, more allegations of testilying appeared to redefine the way the public and the jury view the case against Combs. Veteran courtroom watchers have concluded that there are witnesses on both sides who will testilie—some to convict Combs, others to protect him. In court Monday, hawkish defense attorneys failed to shake shooting victim Natania Reuben, 30, who was the first witness to say she saw Combs fire a gun. Reuben was shot in the face.

"I didn't understand the severity of what Puffy was facing until I watched the news on TV today."

Under a blistering cross-examination by Combs's lawyer Benjamin Brafman, Reuben, who owned a beauty salon in Crown Heights, acknowledged that she filed a $150 million lawsuit against Combs and others because of her injuries. Brafman later told Judge Charles Solomon that the suit gave Reuben a motive to lie. He also challenged Reuben's credibility in other ways, asking her whether she had ever been arrested in Ohio, whether she had been a welfare cheat in New York, and whether she had defrauded the television show People's Court in a case she brought against her landlords. Reuben answered no to most questions, and the judge sustained objections to others. Brafman said he will call witnesses who will testify that Reuben had said that if Combs is convicted, she will be a rich woman.

During the lunch break, Combs's publicists distributed to reporters a videotape of Reuben's appearance on People's Court, along with a talking-points guide to debunking her alleged lies. Some of the points:

  • [that] Reuben's business was in shambles before the incident took place. She lied when she said the shooting cost her the business.

  • [that] the People's Court episode was filmed before the shooting. On the show—and under oath—Reuben told the judge that her business was failing because of her landlord's failure to provide heat. She said that was keeping customers away.

  • [that] her landlord said the real reason her business was failing was because Reuben didn't show up for work enough. He said Reuben hadn't paid him any rent since she moved in and that her first check bounced.

    In another twist last week, key witnesses—the ones prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos hoped could put a smoking gun in Combs's hand—suddenly marched into court and changed their stories. One, whose security outfit has a contract with Combs's record company, had never once seen Combs carry a weapon, while another, citing failed memory, wasn't too sure a black object Combs allegedly had in his hand was a gun or a cell phone.

    The Grammy award-winning rapper and CEO of Bad Boy Entertainment—rap music's hottest label—was arrested on December 27, 1999, after he fled the hip Times Square rathskeller with his girlfriend, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, when shots rang out. Combs and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones are charged with gun possession and bribery for offering Combs's driver $50,000 to take the rap for a gun police allegedly found in a Lincoln Navigator that Combs and Lopez had been hustled into. Police recovered another gun that was thrown out the window of the SUV. Cops and prosecutors say Combs's protégé, rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, shot and wounded three people at the nightclub after an argument in which a club patron threw money at Combs. The 21-year-old Barrow faces three counts of attempted murder in the case. One of the victims, Robert Thompson of Fairfield, Connecticut, testified last Thursday at the trial in state supreme court in Manhattan that Barrow shot him.

    It is against this backdrop that Leonard Taylor concocted his lie. "I didn't understand the severity of what Puffy was facing until I watched the news on TV today," Taylor told me in a phone conversation on Thursday afternoon. I'd called to ask him about the testimony earlier that day of bouncer Hassan Mahamah, who said he did not see Combs with a gun before the shooting broke out. Taylor emphasized: "I didn't understand the severity of what I was doing."

    The brief message he left on my answering service at the Voice was that his name is Leonard Taylor, and he was calling to give me exclusive rights to a story. He said he was a bouncer at Club New York early that morning when Sean Combs and his entourage arrived to party: He knew a lot that has not been told about what happened. He left a phone number.

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