What Price Puffy? The High Cost of Liberty When You’re a Music Mogul Charged With Gun Possession

First the acquittal, now the bill. The only question left to

answer about the Sean (Puffy) Combs trial before we put it to rest forever-or

at least until the next time the rap mogul gets disrespected and his posse

endeavors to rectify the situation-is how much freedom cost the great man.

Mr. Combs’ acquittal on March 16 on gun possession and

bribery charges might have launched Puff Daddy on a well-deserved vacation-and,

if he’s following the advice of his lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, new reflections on

his life’s occasionally hectic journey (the sound you hear in the background

isn’t Crystal champagne corks caroming off the walls, but books of Scripture

opening and closing). But the residual effects of his victory will soon be

evident in a stack of bills from the many indispensable members of his defense

team: publicists, investigators, bodyguards, lawyers, his caterer.

A spokesman for Mr. Combs said, “There is no point in

addressing a monetary figure.” So it remained up to the various Puffy players

to define the price of justice.

For the record, all we

spoke with steadfastly shied away from painting the services they provided the

rap star in shallow, mercenary terms. Several of them pointed out that they’ve

been with the rap mogul through previous brushes with the law and that, while

they might not qualify as Puffy’s homeboys, their valiant efforts on his behalf

were motivated as much by friendship as by profit.

But profit they did. All told, Puff Daddy’s acquittal

probably cost the mogul close to $3 million (and that’s before the

personal-injury lawsuits against Mr. Combs are resolved). Here’s how:

Soon after his arrest

with his then steady, Jennifer Lopez, in the early-morning hours of Dec. 27,

1999, Puffy was on the phone to Beau Dietl. The rap impresario called Mr.

Dietl, of Beau Dietl and Associates, from the Midtown South precinct, where he

had been taken to sort things out shortly after the cops chased down his

Lincoln Navigator and led Mr. Combs, Ms. Lopez, Combs bodyguard Anthony (Wolf)

Jones and their driver, Wardel Fenderson, away in handcuffs.

Mr. Combs and Mr. Dietl go way back. “We’re doing mostly

corporate stuff-we’re breaking away from the criminal-but I knew Sean from CCNY

days, when they crushed the kids,” Mr. Dietl said, referring to the rap concert

Puffy promoted at the City College of New York back in 1991, when nine students

were crushed to death outside a locked door. “He’s always been a gentleman

around me.”

Mr. Dietl immediately dispatched Mike Ciravolo, the

president of his company, to the station house. In court Mr. Ciravolo, a former

NYPD detective squad commander in Jackson Heights, testified that he had four

investigators working on the case, including himself, and that they’d billed

Puffy for “hundreds, many hundreds” of hours.

Nonetheless, Mr. Ciravolo cut Puffy a deal, charging him the

same rate for his own services as he charges for his assistants-$125 an hour.

“We usually bill for my services $250,” Mr. Ciravolo told the jury. “I felt it

was appropriate to keep it at $125 in this case.”

While neither the prosecution nor the defense probed the

private eye’s eleemosynary impulses in greater depth while he was on the

witness stand, the discount may have had less to do with Mr.  Ciravolo’s passion to see justice done than

the fact that the rap mogul drives a hard bargain-even in extremis .

“He was watching his dollars,” Mr. Dietl reported. “It wasn’t

like, ‘Do whatever it costs.’ He’s a very good businessman. We negotiated with

him”-and renegotiated halfway through the case, he adds. “We did the fee for

less because of my relationship with Sean. I’d have charged somebody else a lot

more money.”

In the end, Mr. Dietl estimates, his services cost Mr. Combs

“less than $100,000.”

However, he wasn’t the only private investigator attached to

the case. Johnnie Cochran had his own investigator on the job-Kevin Hinkton, an

imposing, 6-foot 5-inch, 255-pound former homicide detective. “I made a

wonderful ally,” Mr. Ciravolo said of Mr. Hinkton. “As a matter of fact, we’ll

be working on cases together.”

One source familiar with

the case estimated that, including expenses, Mr. Hinkton may have raked in

double what Beau Dietl’s firm did. Mr. Ciravolo doubts that. “That’s incredibly

inflated,” he said. “He got less than us. He’s a small shop; he works alone.”

Mr. Hinkton agreed: “I’m

less expensive.”

Rather than dwell on price, however, the gumshoes preferred

to recount some of the case’s peak experiences, at least from an investigatory

standpoint. For instance, there was the time the defense got wind that the

prosecution was pursuing a witness who’d been in a holding cell with Puffy, his

bodyguard Mr. Jones and their driver Mr. Fenderson.

“We had heard some talk [that prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos]

was going to use one of the people in the cells to say he overheard Puffy and

Wolf trying to bribe Wardel Fenderson,” said Mr. Ciravolo. His P.I. team

identified the suspect as a con man who was in jail because he’d masqueraded as

a Citibank vice president, then skipped out on his rent, leaving a real estate

company in Texas holding the bag.

Mr. Ciravolo said he sent a couple of investigators down to

the Lone Star State to interview one of the real estate firm’s disgruntled

executives. “I guess Bogdanos realized we’d be able to murder this guy on the

stand,” Mr. Ciravolo recalled. “He opted never to use it. We negated him.

“A lot of people work in the background when something of

this magnitude is going down,” Mr. Ciravolo went on. “Ben and Johnnie can take

a bow, but there’s a lot of support work that goes behind it.”

Those unsung heroes also included Puffy’s bodyguards-not

those on trial with him, but the barrel-chested souls who prevented him from

getting into additional altercations around the courthouse. Mike Zimet is the

man who scoped out the seventh-floor men’s room whenever Puff Daddy needed to

seek relief.

“As soon as I felt he was comfortable, I’d give him a little

more space,” said Mr. Zimet, whose company, Mike Zimet Enterprise Inc.,

provided the rap star with three or four bodyguards each day.

While Mr. Zimet-a tall, bald fellow who looks more like a

C.P.A. than hip-hop muscle, and who local TV news aficionados may remember as

the pinstriped gentleman following a couple of respectful paces behind Mr.

Combs as he strode past the paparazzi every morning and afternoon-declined to

discuss his fee, he denied that Puffy went with him rather than Beau Dietl’s

celebrity protectors because the price was right.

“I had done Sean’s parties in the Hamptons for two or three

years,” Mr. Zimet, a likable, soft-spoken gentleman, explained. “I had a

relationship before. It’s a trusting one and a cordial one.”

Dan Klores, Mr. Combs’

public-relations man, also traces his relationship with the rap artist to the

distant past. “I’ve had this guy since Steve Stoute,” Mr. Klores said,

referring to the record producer who sent Puff Daddy into anger-management

training after Puffy hit him with a champagne bottle and a telephone during a

dispute in April 1999.

Mr. Klores (who also represents The Observer ) was an almost daily presence in the courtroom, as was

Klores Associates vice president Natalie Moare (though there was a gag order

imposed on both the prosecution and defense throughout the six-week trial).

Gossips in the press galley speculated that the Dan Klores Associates fee

reached $25,000 a week; one report even had it at $100,000 a week. Mr. Klores

said, “Oh, man, do I wish that was true.”

Still, said Mr. Klores (who, like others, credits Puffy with

being an extremely good businessman), “this has been a lot of my time. I’ve got

over 100 clients and 120 people [working] here.”

Of course, the big-ticket item in the trial was the legal

fees for two high-powered lawyers: Benjamin Brafman, who was the pit bull

growling and barking at Mr. Bogdanos’ prosecution every step of the way, and

Mr. Cochran, the suave charmer.

The figure tossed about for Mr. Brafman alone was $1

million. Attorney Ed Hayes-who briefly represented both Mr. Jones, Puffy’s

bodyguard, who was also acquitted of all gun-possession and bribery charges,

and Mr. Fenderson, the driver, who ended up testifying against Mr. Combs-said

he didn’t think that sounded unreasonable. “If I was him, I’d be looking to

make a million,” said Mr. Hayes. “Combs is, I believe, a guy who knows how to

motivate people with money.”

When contacted, Mr. Brafman answered questions about his

fee-and about whether or not he or Mr. Cochran were more generously

compensated-with a crisp, “Next question.”

“Whatever he made, he’s worth it, too,” Mr. Hayes said of

Mr. Cochran. “I would think Brafman did perhaps more of the work, so he’d get

more of the fee. But it’s close.”

All told, a source close

to the defense estimated that Puffy’s expenses were in the $3 million range.

That would include the daily lunches catered by Citarella-usually for a posse

of supporters, as well as the bodyguards, setting Puffy back $10 to $12 a

lunch.

There was also the lunch

at the Soho Grand Hotel while Puffy waited out the verdict, in which, as

reported in the Daily News , Mr. Combs

reportedly imbibed three Perfect Tens-a blend of vanilla vodka, pineapple juice

and lemon-lime juice-at $12 a pop.

“He’s been a customer for a couple of years,” said Joe

Guerrera, Citarella’s owner. “The same food he ate in the Hamptons, he ate in

the courthouse. The luxury life is the luxury life.”

Mr. Guerrera was one of the few people who declined to take

credit for Puffy’s acquittal. “I know we’re good,” he said. “I don’t know if

we’re that good.”

Had Mr. Combs been indigent and represented by the Legal Aid

Society, the cost to taxpayers would have been a good deal less than Puffy

shelled out. Spokeswoman Pat Bath said that “it is extremely hard” to put a

price tag on their services. But the 1998 case involving Darrell Harris, a

former corrections officer who shot up a bar, killing four people, cost the

Legal Aid Society less than $500,000-a sixth of Puffy’s estimated tab.

Asked about Mr. Combs’ estimated $3 million tab for his

defense, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said, “It’s not

something we comment on.”

In the end, the high cost of justice likely mattered very

little to Mr. Combs, notwithstanding his reputation for being a “good businessman.”

With a personal worth already estimated at $45 million, Mr. Combs merely

invested in a future that is likely to be filled with money-making new ventures

(in between Scripture studies).

There are even those who suspect that Puffy may end up profiting

from the trial. “The way he handled the case made him a real force,” noted Mr.

Hayes. “He put himself at risk by testifying, and he avoided any kind of racial

defense. I think that’s great for his reputation.”

There’s also the

publicity his Sean John clothes line received, as banks of television cameras

recorded him entering and leaving the courthouse each day in somber high style.

“He certainly did and always does look great,” observed Paul

Wilmot, Puffy’s fashion publicist. Mr. Wilmot doubts that references to Puffy’s

travails, such as the car chase or the handcuffs at the station house, will

find their way into his next collection. “I’m sure he wants to put this about

as far away from him as he could possibly put it,” said the publicist.

-with Karina Lahni What Price Puffy? The High Cost of Liberty When You’re a Music Mogul Charged With Gun Possession