Puffy Tried To Discover Who Owned Gun, Lawyer Says

Rap mogul, accused of trying to bribe driver, just trying to determine truth, counsel argues.

NEW YORK — Minutes after a December 1999 triple shooting at a Manhattan nightclub, Sean "Puffy" Combs began a mission to discover who owned the gun that police found in the SUV he fled the club in, his lawyer argued in court Tuesday (January 23).

Combs — who is accused of offering driver Wardel Fenderson a bribe to say that the 9 mm pistol was his — spoke to Fenderson about the weapon only because he was trying to determine the truth, lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in a pretrial hearing.

"Even if he promised him the moon, if he was simply going from defendant to defendant trying to find whose gun it was, it does not rise to the level of bribery," Brafman said.

Brafman gave what appeared to be a preview of Combs' defense on the bribery charge, as he urged Judge Charles Solomon to admit as evidence statements Combs made to police on the night of the Club New York shootings. Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos argued that the statements are inadmissible hearsay, and Solomon said he will rule on the issue sometime before the defense team's opening statement.

According to court records, Combs asked police why his girlfriend, singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, was being arrested and why all four people in the Lincoln Navigator (Lopez, Combs, Fenderson and bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones) were being arrested. He also asked what would happen if someone claimed ownership of the weapon, whether Lopez would be released if someone did so and whether it was too late for someone to claim ownership.

Combs and Jones are both charged with possessing the gun, while Lopez was never charged. Fenderson initially faced charges as well, but they were dropped after he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Earlier Tuesday, Solomon denied a motion by Bogdanos to raise the bail of Jones' and Combs' co-defendant Jamal "Shyne" Barrow. Bogdanos had argued that Shyne was a high flight risk because of his Florida residence, which came to light only on Monday after the rapper was arrested over the weekend for driving with a suspended license.

Bogdanos also detailed Shyne's record as a juvenile offender — the rapper spent almost a year in a detention facility in the early '90s after he was convicted of participating in two robberies, including one in which he was accused of hitting a boy with "a stick that had a nail at the end."

Shyne's New York driver's license was revoked in 1998, after he was involved in a one-car accident in which he drove off the road, killing a passenger, Bogdanos said.

Shyne's lawyer, Murray Richman, accused Bogdanos of attempting to poison the jury pool with those revelations.

"I'm extremely disturbed. ... It's rather seedy, and it's just not right," Richman said.

In rejecting Bogdanos' application, Solomon said Shyne's $50,000 bail was sufficient, adding that the rapper had shown he could be counted on to attend court proceedings. Shyne breathed a sigh of relief and crossed himself as the judge announced the decision.

The judge and lawyers for both sides on Tuesday continued to question potential jurors about their reactions to pretrial publicity, and that phase of jury selection is expected to conclude Wednesday. Solomon said he hopes to have a jury seated by Thursday or Friday.