NEW YORK "Puffy case witness fix" screamed the cover of the New York Post on Wednesday morning, but when Puff Daddy's lawyers tried to scream back, they found they couldn't.
A lawyer for Combs asked a judge to lift a gag order in the Club New York shooting case so he could respond to the tabloid's report that prosecutors are investigating possible witness tampering. Outside the jury's presence, lawyer Benjamin Brafman called the story which noted that three witnesses' trial testimony differed from their grand-jury testimony, to Combs' benefit "patently false."
Judge Charles Solomon did not immediately rule on lifting the gag order, which prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos opposed.
The Post report, which cited law-enforcement sources, centered on the trial testimony of Tarnisha Smith, Leonard Curtis Howard and Gavin "Pretty Boy" Marchand, brother of rapper Foxy Brown, which the newspaper said deviated from their grand-jury testimony in various degrees. It said prosecutors were questioning whether Combs or any of his associates tampered with prosecution witnesses. Bogdanos earlier accused Howard of perjury in his testimony.
Also on Wednesday morning, George Pappas, a driver for an escort agency, testified that he heard what turned out to be a gun hit his car just as the silver Lincoln Navigator in which Combs fled Club New York drove by on December 27, 1999.
Pappas looked up to see a hand sticking out of the open rear-passenger side window of the Navigator, he said. Pappas said the hand appeared to be moving into the car at that moment. Combs was sitting in the right-rear seat of the Navigator, several witnesses have testified.
The rapper is accused of possessing two guns that night. One of those guns was allegedly thrown out of the Navigator.
Pappas, who was sipping coffee in his parked car, testified that he found a black 9-mm semiautomatic gun outside his car after the Navigator drove by. He did not turn it over to police.
"I didn't want to get involved. I'm just a private person," Pappas said. "I didn't want to get asked questions."
Pappas wrapped the gun in a towel and put it in his car. But after hearing news reports that morning indicating that Combs had been arrested following a shooting and that Combs had left the scene in a silver Navigator, he decided to get rid of the gun. Pappas turned it over to his boss at the escort agency, Anthony Nastasi, who gave it to the authorities.
Nastasi has been paid by the FBI to serve as an informant in organized-crime investigations and is charged in Nevada with promoting prostitution and living off a prostitute's income, according to Combs lawyer Brafman. But Pappas, while acknowledging that his task on the morning of December 27 had been to drive a stripper to and from various appointments, described Nastasi as a legitimate businessman.
Pappas said he gave the gun to Nastasi because he knew Nastasi had friends in law enforcement. During ferocious cross-examination by Brafman, Pappas said it was possible the gun he found near his car had been thrown there by someone walking on the street.
Brafman questioned Pappas on how close the police car chasing the Navigator was when he saw it pass a key point because the officer in the police car has never said he saw a gun thrown from the Navigator. Pappas said he couldn't measure the distance, but the police car was 10 to 20 seconds behind the Navigator.