Puffy, Bodyguard Charged With Trying To Bribe Driver

Prosecutors say police watched rapper offer Wardel Fenderson $50,000 to say stolen gun was his.

NEW YORK — Embattled rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, who attended the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Wednesday with the permission of a Manhattan judge, will return home to New York to face a new bribery charge.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced Wednesday that Combs and bodyguard Anthony Jones — both already facing two felony weapons charges — have been indicted on one felony count of bribing a witness. Prosecutors accuse the two of unsuccessfully

offering driver Wardel Fenderson $50,000 and a diamond ring to claim ownership of a 9 mm handgun that police found during a traffic stop, following a Dec. 27 nightclub shooting that left three people wounded.

Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos said during a Feb. 8 bail hearing that Combs and Jones made the offer in front a dozen police officers.

Combs and Jones face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the weapons charges. Combs' lawyers, Harvey Slovis, Johnnie Cochran and Benjamin Brafman, could not be reached for comment. Brafman, who had

represented Mafia informant Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, said in court Feb. 8 that Combs vehemently denies the bribery allegation and called Bogdanos' claims "inappropriate."

"I am outraged by this new charge," Combs said in a statement released Wednesday by Dan Klores, his publicist. "I am not guilty. From the outset I have firmly believed that the Manhattan District Attorney's office has unfairly targeted me for baseless charges."

Combs, who spent time in prison a decade ago for attempted murder, also questioned the timing of the indictment.

"This was done today on the night of the Grammy Awards in an attempt to embarrass me," he wrote. "I intend to fight these groundless charges with all my heart."

Spokespersons for Morgenthau refused to comment on Combs' assertion.

The rapper, who has pleaded not guilty to the weapons charges, is due in court again Tuesday. State Supreme Court Judge Charles Solomon is expected to rule whether to raise the bail of Combs, Jones and rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow, the accused gunman. Bogdanos had asked the judge to raise Combs' bail from an already posted $10,000 to $150,000 and Jones' to $250,000.

Combs, Jones, Fenderson and Combs' friend Jennifer Lopez were arrested after police found the gun, which had been reported stolen in Georgia. Police said Fenderson ran 11 red lights in a Lincoln Navigator owned by

Bad Boy Entertainment, the label Combs runs. Charges eventually were dropped against Lopez and Fenderson.

The brief chase followed a 2:50 a.m. shooting Dec. 27 at Club New York in Manhattan. Barrow, a 19-year-old Brooklyn native signed to Bad Boy, faces three counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors have said Barrow opened fire with a 9 mm handgun after a club-goer threw money in Combs' face. Combs, who carried more than $8,000 that night and is worth more than $50 million, had been arguing with a third club-goer about who made more money, according to Bogdanos.

Police later recovered a second gun that they said had been thrown from the Navigator. Bogdanos said on Feb. 8 that Combs threw the gun.

Two of the three victims, Natanya Ruben and Julius Jones, were treated at a local hospital. A third, Robert Thompson, refused medical treatment. Ruben, who suffered wounds to the face, was the most seriously hurt.

At the Grammys, Combs, dressed in a white suit and shades, looked upset as cameras zoomed in on him while his nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group was announced (he and R. Kelly's "Satisfy You" lost to the Roots and Erykah Badu's "You Got Me"). He was the

subject of jokes by host Rosie O'Donnell throughout the night. She said he'd be starring in a new Broadway musical called "Puffy Get Your Gun." Near the end of the show, she proclaimed, "Puffy has left the building."

"He sat in the front row, and let me tell you that was a comfort," she remarked during the telecast.

(This story was updated at 5:30 PM EST on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2000.)