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
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
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
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
“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
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