NEW YORK Rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs and bodyguard Anthony Jones pleaded not guilty Tuesday (Feb. 29) of trying to bribe Combs' driver to claim a gun reported stolen was his.
State Supreme Court Judge Charles Solomon set their bail for the felony bribery charge at $20,000 apiece. He denied prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos' request to raise Combs' and Jones' bail on felony charges of possessing a stolen gun to $150,000 and $350,000, respectively.
Combs spoke briefly to reporters before leaving court.
"It's outrageous the way they're acting in court for the media," the rapper and head of Bad Boy Entertainment said.
"[Bogdanos] is trying to make it personal," Combs' lawyer Johnnie Cochran said outside the courthouse after the 30-minute hearing. "These are just specious charges filed just because of who [Combs] is."
In an early-February hearing, Bogdanos first accused Combs and Jones of offering $50,000 and a diamond ring to driver Wardel Fenderson to claim ownership of a 9 mm handgun. Police found the gun in the sport-utility vehicle the men were riding in, following a Dec. 27 shooting at Club New York in Manhattan.
Combs and Jones were indicted Wednesday on one count each of bribing a witness, the same day Combs was in Los Angeles to attend the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. On Jan. 13, they had been indicted on two felony weapons counts apiece and, if convicted of those charges, face up to 15 years in prison.
The suspect in the nightclub shooting, Jamal "Shyne" Barrow a rapper signed to Combs' label faces up to 25 years if convicted on three counts of attempted murder. Solomon raised Barrow's bail Tuesday by $15,000; Barrow previously had posted $70,000. Barrow, Combs and Jones are due in court again May 16 for a hearing on motions filed by defense and prosecution lawyers.
Prosecutors have said Barrow opened fire at the club at about 2:50 a.m. Dec. 27 after another club-goer threw money in Combs' face. Fenderson, driving a Lincoln Navigator, was stopped by police minutes later, after the vehicle had run 11 red lights. Police said they found a gun under the passenger's seat. A second gun, which Bogdanos said had been thrown out the window, was found two days later.
Two of the shooting victims, Natanya Ruben and Julius Jones, were treated at a local hospital. The third, Robert Thompson, refused medical treatment.
Combs, Jones and Barrow all sat quietly and wore solemn expressions as Tuesday's hearing progressed. Combs, whose song "Best Friend" (RealAudio excerpt) is at #5 on the Billboard rap singles chart, scowled at Bogdanos as the prosecutor spoke.
Benjamin Brafman, another of Combs' lawyers, spoke for the rapper at the hearing. "What you may have is a shakedown, but not a bribery," he said, but he would not elaborate on that statement afterward.
Brafman said the only evidence of bribery that District Attorney Robert Morgenthau and Bogdanos have shown is a public record that says Combs had asked officers whether charges could be dropped if someone claimed ownership of the gun. Brafman said Combs made the inquiry in reference to singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, his friend who also was arrested following the shooting. Charges against her and Fenderson eventually were dropped.
Bogdanos, though, said Combs and Jones made the offer of money and the ring to Fenderson in front of a dozen police officers.
"We should be abundantly clear here," Bogdanos said. "The [document] includes only statements made directly to police officers."