Trial Begins for Puff Daddy

Monday, January 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — The weapons and bribery trial of Sean ``Puffy'' Combs began Monday, with prosecutors for the first time saying the rap star fired a gun inside a Times Square nightclub as one of his proteges allegedly shot and wounded three people.

``Mr. Combs fired a shot'' into the club's ceiling, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos said in opening statements. ``Witnesses will say they saw the muzzle flash.''

Combs, 31, isn't accused of shooting anyone in Club New York on Dec. 27, 1999. He was arrested after he fled the club with his girlfriend, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, who has not been charged.

The defense said in its opening statement that the prosecution is picking on Combs because he is famous.

``This was a star-struck selective prosecution of a superstar,'' defense attorney Benjamin Brafman said. ``This prosecution is about fame and celebrity, not about a search for truth and justice.''

Combs' rap protege, Jamal ``Shyne'' Barrow, 21, is charged with attempted murder and assault for allegedly wounding the three club patrons. He allegedly shot a 9mm pistol during a dispute in which another man reportedly insulted Combs and threw money in his face.

Also charged with illegal gun possession is Combs' bodyguard that night, Anthony ``Wolf'' Jones, 34.

Bogdanos said that patrons entering the club are required to walk through a metal detector, but Combs and his group were not searched.

``You don't search 'Puff Daddy' and his entourage,'' he said. ``No one lays a glove on them.''

Lopez reportedly told a grand jury that she never saw Combs with a gun that night. It was unknown whether she will be called to testify, though she is on witness lists.

Combs' troubles stemmed from what happened later.

Bogdanos has said that as Combs, Lopez and Jones drove away from the club with driver Wardell Fenderson, someone threw a handgun out the vehicle's window.

And when police stopped the vehicle after it had run several red lights, Bogdanos said, they found another pistol on the floor in front. No one claimed the gun so police took everybody into custody.

At a police station, prosecutors say, Combs and Jones tried to bribe Fenderson into claiming that the gun was his. Combs allegedly offered Fenderson $50,000 to take the rap, with a $40,000 diamond ring that Lopez gave him for his birthday as collateral.

Bogdanos said Fenderson initially agreed under ``relentless, unremitting'' pressure to claim ownership of the gun. Two days later, the prosecutor said, Fenderson changed his mind and told police officers: ``I can't do this. I'm not taking the rap for these guys.''

Fenderson will testify for the prosecution and he has sued Combs for $3 million. Combs' attorney suggested greed was the driver's motive.

``The plan is, `How do I, Wardell, capitalize on this case? How do I get a huge payday even though I don't deserve a nickel?''' Brafman told jurors Monday.
Trial Begins for Puff Daddy