NEW YORK Lawyers representing Sean "Puffy" Combs have for several months fashioned the rapper and Bad Boy Entertainment executive as an instantly recognizable celebrity who employs 500 people and has never owned a gun in his life.
But Combs is the subject of at least three open gun complaints, and has a past littered with criminal complaints, guns and violence. In the most recent case, Combs is charged with possessing two guns after leaving the scene of a triple shooting in New York in December.
The complaints date back to a 1991 stampede that killed nine fans at a New York concert. A judge found Combs, who promoted the City College of New York show, featuring Heavy D, partially liable for the deaths and the injuries (Heavy D was found liable, too).
Combs recently has displayed a "brazenness," "arrogance" and "contempt for the law," Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos said in a dramatic court moment, on Feb. 10, in the most recent case.
In that case, Combs and bodyguard Anthony Jones face weapons and bribery charges resulting from the aftermath of the Dec. 27 shooting at Club New York. They're due back in court May 16 and face up to 15 years if convicted.
Outside the State Supreme Court building on Feb. 29, Combs told reporters, photographers and onlookers, "It's outrageous, the way [prosecutors] are acting in court for the media." The rapper wore an immaculate black pinstripe suit and a diamond earring.
The day after the Club New York shooting, the 29-year-old rapper, reading from a prepared statement, told reporters, "On Sunday evening I went to Club New York, and under no circumstances whatsoever did I have anything to do with a shooting. I do not own a gun, nor did I possess a gun that night."
In April 1999, he was charged with assaulting Interscope Records executive Steve Stoute with a chair, a telephone and a champagne bottle because of a dispute over an edit of the video of Nas' "Hate Me Now," which showed Combs being crucified. Combs pleaded guilty in September to a lesser charge of harassing Stoute who was a management consultant to Nas and was ordered to attend a one-day anger-management session.
His name has come up in two criminal complaints filed in Cleveland, one in 1997 and another in August. In the first, a guest at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel complained that a bullet flew through the wall from the room next door, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. That room was registered to "Puff Daddy Rap Group."
In the second, a photographer complained that he was attacked by a security guard as he tried to take shots of Combs and actress/singer Jennifer Lopez, according to the Plain-Dealer.
Arrests were not made in either instance. Combs was not involved directly in the incidents, according to the newspaper's accounts. Cleveland police said they could not immediately locate records of the complaints and referred inquiries to a Plain-Dealer reporter.
Combs is also a subject of open weapons cases in Moline, Ill., and Washington, D.C. in which he and his entourage allegedly left guns behind after leaving town.
A spokesperson for Combs said the rapper would not comment on any of the past allegations.
Bogdanos made issue of Combs' past behavior during the Feb. 10 bail hearing and a follow-up hearing Feb. 29. Combs and Jones are accused of possessing two loaded 9mm handguns after the Lincoln Navigator they were riding in was stopped for running 11 red lights shortly after the 2:50 a.m. shooting, according to prosecutors.
They also stand accused of offering $50,000 and a diamond ring to driver Wardel Fenderson in an attempt to persuade him to claim ownership of the guns. Bogdanos has said they made the alleged bribery attempt in front of a dozen police officers.
"They think money can buy their way out of trouble," Bogdanos told State Supreme Court Judge Charles Solomon in February, to the visible displeasure of Combs, Jones and Barrow. "That's the lack of regard they have for the criminal justice system."
Benjamin Brafman, one of Combs' lawyers, has called the current charges against Combs baseless and said recently that he believes the open cases in Moline and Washington, D.C., lack merit.
"I don't see those cases ever resulting in the prosecution of Mr. Combs," Brafman said. "They are old cases that are only being looked at because of the interest expressed by the Manhattan D.A.'s office."
But Marshall Douglas, the Rock Island County (Ill.) States Attorney, said his office is still investigating the Moline incident, which allegedly took place in November 1997. Douglas said a limousine driver found loaded handguns in the side pockets of his car after Combs and Jones stepped out of it. Combs was touring for his six-times platinum 1997 album, No Way Out, which he released as Puff Daddy. That album produced the hits "It's All About The Benjamins" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I'll Be Missing You" (RealAudio excerpt).
"If there's sufficient evidence and we can establish probable cause, then we'll file charges against them," Douglas said.
Prosecutors in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment about a March 1998 incident there, in which Bogdanos said Combs and company left loaded guns behind in a hotel room.
Combs has repeatedly denied he possessed a gun at Club New York or in the Navigator afterward. Bad Boy rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow is charged with three counts of murder and accused of opening fire at the club, injuring three people, including one woman, Natanya Ruben, who was shot in the face.
Bogdanos said that during a dispute between Combs and another club-goer, over who makes more money, a third club-goer intervened by throwing money in Combs' face. Barrow responded by pulling a 9 mm.
Combs hinted after the Feb. 29 hearing that he felt Bogdanos and Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau were out to get him. That day, he looked sternly and angrily at Bogdanos throughout the hearing. He was accompanied to court by the dapper Brafman, who has represented Mafia informant Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, and Johnnie Cochran, the confident all-purpose celebrity lawyer famous for helping earn football star O.J. Simpson an acquittal on murder charges in 1995.
Combs, Jones and Barrow have pleaded not guilty to all charges.