NEW YORK Sean "Puffy" Combs tried to bribe his driver, in front of a dozen police officers, after they and two others were arrested on weapons charges two months ago, a prosecutor charged during a bail hearing Thursday morning (Feb. 10).
Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos said the rapper and a bodyguard, Anthony Jones, were frantic after police found a loaded 9 mm handgun in the Lincoln Navigator in which they left a club where a triple shooting had occurred on Dec. 27.
At the front desk of the Midtown North Precinct, while the dozen officers stood nearby, Bogdanos said, Combs and Jones offered the sport-utility vehicle's driver, Wardel Fenderson, $50,000 instantly offering one of Combs' rings as collateral if he would claim ownership of the gun, which was found on the floor.
Combs' lawyer Benjamin Brafman did not respond directly to the bribery accusation, either in court or to a swarm of reporters afterward, but called the charge inappropriate for what he said was a routine bail hearing.
"I did not come here to try this case," Brafman said to State Supreme Court Judge Charles Solomon. "I am astonished by what has happened in the last 20 minutes."
"They think money can buy their way out of trouble," Bogdanos told the judge as Combs, Jones and rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow who is accused of attempted murder in the shootings at Club New York watched. "That's the lack of regard they have for the criminal justice system."
The prosecutor said the same grand jury that indicted Barrow on attempted-murder charges and Combs and Jones on weapons-possession charges is considering whether to indict Combs on a bribery charge. Brafman said he does not believe there will be any additional charges against his client.
The three defendants wore black suits and solemn expressions as Bogdanos spoke. Combs wore a diamond earring in his left ear but not his customary sunglasses. He sat straight and peered at Bogdanos while the latter spoke.
Combs said little as he left court. He signed an autograph for a young fan, apologized to one reporter for not being able to speak, entered a Ford Expedition sport-utility vehicle and left.
Combs and Jones were arrested on Dec. 27 along with Fenderson, a part-time driver who worked for Combs' label, Bad Boy Entertainment, on weekends, and singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, a friend of Combs. All four were in a vehicle police said they stopped after a short chase following the Club New York shootings.
Court papers released earlier this week revealed that Combs asked police repeatedly, the night of his arrest, why Lopez was arrested and whether charges against her would be dropped if someone claimed ownership of the gun.
Charges against Lopez and Fenderson were dropped. Combs and Jones face two counts of weapons possession, because of the gun allegedly found in the vehicle and another 9 mm handgun that, Bogdanos said Thursday, Combs threw out the vehicle's right rear window.
Prosecutors have said both were reported stolen.
Bogdanos said Lopez's testimony to the grand jury "did not exonerate" Combs on the weapons-possession charges. Brafman said that was "patently inaccurate." Lopez issued a statement in January saying she supports Combs and believes he is innocent. A spokesperson for the actress could not be reached for comment.
Bogdanos said the incident in the club started when Combs, who was carrying more than $8,000 cash that night, and another man began arguing over who made more money. Another man threw money in Combs' face, the prosecutor said. Then, he said, Barrow and Combs drew guns, although only Barrow is accused in the shootings.
Barrow is accused of shooting 29-year-old Natanya Ruben, 27-year-old Julius Jones and 39-year-old Robert Thompson. Bogdanos graphically described the injuries to Jones and Ruben. He said Jones still cannot move his right shoulder, where he was shot. And Ruben has bone fragments spread throughout her face.
"It is, in [doctors'] words, remarkable that's she's still alive," he said.
Bogdanos asked Solomon to set bail at $150,000 for Combs, $350,000 for Jones and $500,000 for Barrow. Solomon, saying he needed more time to review the grand jury evidence, postponed his decision until Feb. 22.
Combs and Jones posted $10,000 and $20,000 bail, respectively, following their arrests. Barrow was initially held without bail before posting $70,000 several days later.
Combs and Jones face up to 15 years in prison and Barrow up to 25 years if convicted.
Combs released his second album, Forever, in August. Its song "Best Friend" (RealAudio excerpt), featuring gospel singer the Rev. Hezekiah Walker, is a current R&B hit.