Fisking The LAT’s Latest Fantasy Article on BiCoastal Hip Hop Feud by Chuck Pulitzer Philips
[Posted by WLS]
The lastest in a long-line of Pulitzer prize winning “fakesters” appears to be Chuck Philips of the LAT, who wittingly or unwittingly seems to have stepped in it with his latest article seeking to shine a spotlight on the “origins” of the BiCoastal Hip Hop “war” that led to the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. The reason for the article is that Philips claims to have solved the heretofore unsolved beating/shooting of Tupac Shakur outside a recording studio in New York in Nov. 1994 — two years before he was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Both shootings are unsolved, but in the aftermath of the 1994 shooting Shakur blamed it on Sean “Puffy” Combs and associates at his “Bad Boy” record label.
Philips’s article says that he has now obtained heretofore undiscovered FBI “302s” — memoranda of interviews — reflecting information given to the FBI by an “informant” establishing that Combs and his associates at “Bad Boy” knew about the shooting before it happened, and were responsible for it. Philips claims this “newly discovered information,” along with “interviews of people at the studio that night,” confirm that it was Combs and his associates that were responsible for the shooting.
But it’s now being widely reported that Mr. Philips has likely been the victim of an elaborate hoax by one Mr. James Sabatino, described by Philips in his article variously as a rap “promoter,” a “fixture” in Combs’s “inner circle,” and … oh yeah, the son of a Captain in the Columbo Crime Family in Brooklyn — according to unnamed “federal authorities.” According to The Smoking Gun, Sabatino’s father describes him as “a disturbed young man who needed attention like a drug.”
But, having read through the entire piece, I have a strong suspicion that it is Mr. Sabatino that is the “informant” mentioned throughout the piece. I have a long breakdown of the article after the jump.
The 302s supposedly relate information provided to the FBI by an “informant” who claims he was at the scene of the shooting, and was familiar with the planning and execution of the assault. The way Philips writes his description, one could conclude that the “interviews” he mentions are not interviews conducted by him, but the “interviews” which are memorialized in the 302s — remember, that’s what they are, a “Memorandum of Interview.”
Now, newly discovered information, including interviews with people who were at the studio that night, lends credence to Shakur’s insistence that associates of rap impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs were behind the assault. Their alleged motives: to punish Shakur for disrespecting them and rejecting their business overtures and, not incidentally, to curry favor with Combs.
Here’s what I think: Sabatino has some 302’s that he was provided as part of the federal case against him — he’s currently serving time in federal prison for mail fraud and wire fraud. He takes one of the 302 pages which has a basic template/format, and places a piece of blank paper over all the typed information before copying it. Now he has a blank 302 with some names and signatures at the bottom, as well as a case number at the top. Being a disturbed superfan, he knows all the publicly disclosed facts surrounding the first beating/shooting of Tupac, and he types out a “302” setting forth all those facts as if they had been provided to the FBI in an interview. In fact, Tupac and others with him that night described the events exactly as Philips claims they are described in the 302s.
If Sabatino is the source of the 302s which Philips obtained, and if Sabatino is the publicity-seeking nut his father claimed him to be, presumably Sabatino identified himself to Philips in some fashion when he sent him the 302s.
The information focuses on two New York hip-hop figures — talent manager James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond and promoter James Sabatino, who is now in prison for unrelated crimes. FBI records obtained recently by The Times say that a confidential informant told authorities in 2002 that Rosemond and Sabatino “set up the rapper Tupac Shakur to get shot at Quad Studios.” The informant said Sabatino had told him that Shakur “had to be dealt with.”
As noted later in the article, Tupac himself pointed the finger of blame at Rosemond and Combs, and wrote a song about it. It’s the “informant” that adds Sabatino to the crew. Easy to do if the “informant” is Sabatino — he simply writes his own 302s, and everywhere he knows that Rosemond should be implicated, he adds his own name as well. Who is going to dispute him? Rosemond? He denies any involvement. Combs? Ditto.
The records — summaries of FBI interviews with the informant conducted in July and December 2002 — provide details of how Shakur was lured to the studio and ambushed. Others with knowledge of the incident corroborated the informant’s account in interviews with The Times and gave additional details. \
Now, I don’t believe that Philips would write, or his editor would accept, that Sabatino could be both the informant and “others with knowledge.” But, what Philips doesn’t disclose here is whether the “interviews” mentioned are old interviews which relate the same set of operative facts as set forth in the 302s, or interviews done since the LAT came into possession of the 302s. And, so far as I can tell from reading the piece, these “others” are never identified.
If the interviews of the “others” are interviews that Philips has done historically concerning the events of the first shooting, about which he has reported in several stories on this subject, it wouldn’t be too hard for a fabricator to draw on that reporting in crafting the 302s relating information from an informant. In that case, all the “informant” is relating are matters already in the public record.
Three assailants — reputedly friends of Rosemond — were lying in wait. They were on orders to beat Shakur but not kill him and to make the incident look like a robbery, the sources said. They were told they could keep whatever jewelry or other valuables they could steal from Shakur and his entourage.
Convenient for Sabatino that they assailants were only friends of Rosemond’s — none of them could deny Sabatino’s involvement because none of them knew Sabatino. But we’ll get to them later.
The FBI documents do not name the informant. The Times learned his identity and verified that he was at the Quad on the night of the assault. When contacted, the man said the FBI records accurately convey what happened, and what he told investigators.
This is the biggest red herring in the article. If the 302 didn’t name the informant — sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t — how did the LAT learn who it was UNLESS the informant disclosed himself? There is nothing in the reporting about the 302s that suggests they provide a trail of bread crumbs to the informant’s door. But if the informant himself was the source of the 302s, it would be easy for the informant to say “The guy referred to in the 302s is me. Let me tell you what I told them.”
He and the other sources interviewed for this article discussed the events of Nov. 30, 1994, on condition that their names not be published.
This is the ONLY passage that I can find where Philips suggests he has done more than one interview “for this article.”
Their accounts are consistent with Shakur’s own. In interviews and on recordings, the rapper blamed Rosemond, Combs and their associates for the attack and promised to get even.
Wow. The interviewees manage to tell the same story that Tupac not only gave interview accounts of, but wrote a song about.
The Quad ambush had its roots in events a year earlier, when Shakur returned to New York from California to film the movie “Above the Rim.” ….
While in New York, he befriended Rosemond, the son of Haitian immigrants, who had run with street gangs and worked in the crack trade before gravitating to the hip-hop scene….. According to accounts given by the two men and others over the years, Rosemond, then 29, took Shakur under his wing, showing him around the city and introducing him to friends, including an ex-convict named Jacques “Haitian Jack” Agnant. Shakur and Agnant hit it off and were soon partying at clubs across Manhattan.
There was a serious side to the revelry. Rosemond was trying to establish himself as a talent manager … and he and Agnant hoped to represent Shakur. They encouraged the rapper to sign a recording contract with Combs’ fledgling Bad Boy label….
Shakur also became acquainted with Sabatino, a 19-year-old Italian American who co-promoted rap conventions with Rosemond. Sabatino had Brooklyn roots of a different kind that gave him cachet in the hip-hop world: His father was a captain in the Colombo crime family, according to federal authorities.
Like Rosemond and Agnant, Sabatino wanted to ride Combs’ rising star, and he too leaned on Shakur to leave Interscope Records and sign with Bad Boy.
Shakur rejected these overtures. Members of Combs’ circle saw this as an act of disrespect.
Here’s where my real problems start. Philips makes clear that his description of the relationship between Tupac and Rosemond is based on accounts given by the two of them and others over the years.
He then jams Sabatino into the picture, but there is no attribution for where the information about how a fat kid from Brooklyn inserts himself into the Hip Hop scene. He just jumps off with a naked assertion that “Shakur … became acquaited with Sabatino.”
There is then a description of who Sabatino supposedly is connected to in Brooklyn — with no attribution.
He then states Sabatino had the ambition to “ride Combs’ rising star” — no attribution.
He says Sabatino leaned on Shakur to sign with Bad Boy — no attribution.
Finally he says Shakur’s rejection of these overtures were seen as disrespectful by members of “Combs’ inner circle.” According to whom?
Maybe a member of “Combs’s inner circle”? Here’s a little throw-away line from later in the story:
Sabatino became a fixture in Combs’ circle. He went on the road with B.I.G. and joined Combs on his 1997 “No Way Out” tour, helping him stage lavish private parties and land corporate sponsorships.
Well, how convenient. Just when Philips was in need of a source inside Combs’s inner circle to describe their reaction to Shakur’s disrespectful attitude, a fat kid from Brooklyn shows up made to order. The only thing missing here is attribution to the source of that information. I suspect Puffy will decline, and BIG is unavailable.
Agnant and Sabatino helped plan the attack, working out the timing, arranging for the three assailants to be driven to the studio and mapping out their escape route, according to the informant and the other sources. Sabatino informed Combs and Wallace in advance that a trap had been laid for Shakur, the sources said.
Later in the story you hear that Agnant could not be reached for comment on this story. This passage says two people planned the attack, working out all the logistical details. One of the two could not be reached for comment. Unless one of them had a talking mouse in his pocket, the most likely suspect to be the informant is Sabatino — the only other planner.
Shakur’s friend Randy “Stretch” Walker was in on the plan, the sources said. In the hours before the attack, Shakur and Rosemond argued several times over the phone about how much Shakur would be paid. After the dispute was settled, Walker notified Agnant when Shakur was en route, the sources said.
Later in the article you learn, conveniently for Sabatino if he is the informant, that “Stretch” Walker is dead, and unable to confirm or deny his involvement with Sabatino or anyone else.
Around 11:30 p.m., Sabatino effectively locked down the 10th floor, quietly intercepting anyone who tried to leave, the FBI informant and the other sources said.
According to…… I suspect Sabatino the Informant.
In a 2005 interview with Vibe magazine, in which he denied any role in the attack, Rosemond described how the injured Shakur accused him of being in on the ambush.
Rosemond quoted the rapper as asking: “Why you let them know I’m coming here? You was the only [one] who knew, man. Why?”
Once again, another source of public record information that Sabatino could have drawn upon in fabricating his 302 in such a fashion that the facts related by the “informant” match-up with what people actually at the scene of the incident described.
The FBI informant said Agnant told him that “anyone who thought the shooting was a robbery was crazy.” He said Agnant “seemed mad that Shakur was still alive and kept calling” the hospital “to check on Shakur’s status.”
Again, that’s the Agnant who couldn’t be found for comment.
The three men identified by the sources as Shakur’s assailants are all serving time in federal penitentiaries for unrelated crimes. The Times is withholding their names because they have not been charged.
In correspondence with The Times, one of the men said that Rosemond orchestrated the ambush. Another was cryptic. He wrote that the statute of limitations for the assault had expired, and he offered to produce, for an unspecified fee, the medallion stolen from Shakur.
The third inmate denied involvement in the attack.
It’s entirely likely that Rosemond was behind the attack, and we know that 3 unknown assailants were lying in wait for Shakur that night. So what the comments by these three add to the story is uncertain.
The Quad ambush triggered a vicious, well-chronicled feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers and their record labels, New York-based Bad Boy and Death Row Records of Los Angeles.
At awards shows, in music videos and in song lyrics, the feuding camps laid down challenges that the stars’ posses acted out with gunfire.
In April 1995, four months after the Quad attack, Vibe magazine published a prison interview with Shakur in which he said Combs and his associates were responsible.
Not long after, Bad Boy released a new song by the Notorious B.I.G., “Who Shot Ya?,” which describes an ambush in which the victim is shot by three assailants. It closes with a taunt:
“You rewind this
“Bad Boy’s behind this.”
Once again, nothing new here, from either Philips or his informant.
Most of the rest of the piece simply chronicles to well-reported saga of East v. West rappers and their entourages. But the entire story boils down to a few pages of dubious material, into which a lonely federal prison inmate with a Walter Mitty complex and too much time on his hands inserts himself in writing into various moments of Hip Hop notoriety a la Forrest Gump.
And Chuck Philips sucked it down without taking a moment to chew it over.
The “widely” link doesn’t work. Otherwise, a fearsome fisking.Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4) — 3/26/2008 @ 5:38 pm
Well, there’s another attempt at a Pulitzer shot down.Another Drew (8018ee) — 3/26/2008 @ 10:40 pm
I have a new post up. The paper has admitted the documents were fabricated.Patterico (4bda0b) — 3/26/2008 @ 10:42 pm