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"And if he was robbing somebody, he'd have a gun and wouldn't have gotten stabbed to death, number three," Fabolous adds, in a sort of logic that could only make sense in Brevoort Projects or somewhere similar. As if to reinforce that point, he throws in: "Shamel had on a chain. Why is he getting accused of snatching one?"
Fabolous goes on to explain that although he makes shout-outs to Street Family when he performs, and wears a chain similar to the one found on McKinney, and named his indie label Street Family, and considers the artists signed to it Street Family members, the group calling itself "Street Family" that the cops say has been prowling upscale nightclubs to snatch gold chains is entirely unrelated.
And even if they happen to hail from Brevoort Projects, or turn out to be friends of friends, he certainly shouldn't be punished for their actions, Fabolous insists. When you come from the 'hood and have reached a certain level of success, he points out, it isn't easy to keep tabs on all the people keeping tabs on you.
"Without my name, [Shamel's death] would have never been a newsworthy story," he says as he cruises around the Flatiron in his Bentley Coupe. "It would have just been another New York City murder. For my sake, I'm not trying to let them devalue me as this so-called head of an organized-crime family that they have accused me and a few friends of. If somebody steals a cookie right now and it's across the street from my old neighborhood, the headline would read: 'Street Family Robs Cookie Store.' "
Fabolous slips into a booth at the Palms, the famous Times Square steakhouse. He's without an entourage of any sort, but he is adorned in yellow diamonds. The businessmen ripping into their lunches don't appear to recognize him. There's no one to interrupt as he begins to tell the story of taking a bullet in his left thigh on a night in October 2006.
"We were exiting Justin's [Sean 'Diddy' Combs's restaurant, named after his son, which happens to be just a few doors down from Duvet, where McKinney was killed a year later] and were across the street in the parking lot," he remembers. "There was an argument going on, andI'm not sure if it was spiteful or randomlysomeone got out of a car and shot me."
If the motive remains a mystery to Fabolous, one was quickly supplied by the hip-hop public. That same night, Sebastian Telfair, a Coney Island native who had become a Boston Celtics point guard (he's now with the Minnesota Timberwolves), was robbed of a $50,000 gold chain outside Justin's.
"I saw him in the restaurant and said hello," says Fabolous, laughing at the assumption that he had anything to do with the snatch-and-grab.
Fabolous was arrested with three other men for having unregistered weapons in their SUV. Telfair, meanwhile, was questioned about reports that he'd been seen making cell-phone calls after being robbed and before Fabolous was shot. The NBA later said that Telfair's phone records had been turned over, and police didn't believe he had anything to do with the shooting.
Fabolous says he had nothing to do with the Telfair robbery. But he also acknowledges that NBA players and other pro athletes make tempting targets for chain-snatchings, since they often don't report losing even very valuable items. To do so, he says, means admitting that the financial loss was meaningful.
"I got robbed before, in L.A.," he says. "I mean, it was a big deal, but not a big deal."
Such chains sell for thousands, with some appearing for sale on MySpace or YouTube. And some cunning thieves eventually find a way to sell the jewels back to their victims.
Despite his protestations that he's not fronting a robbery ring, Fabolous knows that on the nightlife circuit, that's exactly what people think. Other reputed victims of the Street Family include boxer Zab Judah, former Giant Frank Walker, and Knicks player Stephon Marbury. "Fab's boys have been robbing people for [years]," says a nightclub security expert who asked to remain anonymous. "That is how they get their money. He's not paying all of themthey're just guys from the neighborhood. He's just creating an access to greener pastures."
But Fabolous, when he refers to the robberies, is careful not to call the perps "Street Family." "They say I get these guys into clubs," he says. "Some of it is people who grew up with me. Some are people who just rep Street Family; others I've never met before. All of this negative attention has made me more watchful of my surroundings and inner circle. Sometimes, when you're a celebrity, you have people around you who try to prove themselves, prove to other people that they know you or that they have some pull."
Fabolous hasn't been arrested or questioned for any of the robberies, and there have been times when he's been linked to such crimes unfairly. On a recent ski trip that Fabolous took with some friends, someone at their resort was robbed of his chain and accused them of the crime, Fabolous says. Turned out the culprit was a local man.