'Diddy' Combs faces fraud lawsuit

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Millionaire mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, who nearly topped Forbes' 2007 Hip Hop Cash Kings' List, was accused this week in separate lawsuits of swindling a business associate and battering a concert promoter, just days after resolving a child support dispute with the mother of his 15-month-old daughter, whom he had stiffed for more than a year.

Combs, who stars in MTV's "Making the Band" reality series and oversees the Bad Boy Records label, the Sean John clothing line and the Unforgivable fragrance line, earned an estimated $28 million last year, according to Forbes.

James Sabatino, a friend and business associate of slain Bad Boy rap star Biggie Smalls, filed one of the lawsuits against Combs. He contended that the hip-hop entrepreneur never paid him in full after Combs purchased exclusive audio and video recordings Sabatino had made of Smalls 14 years ago. The suit seeks $19 million.

The deal was struck months after the still-unsolved March 1997 slaying of Smalls, whose real name was Christopher Wallace. Sabatino's lawsuit contends that Combs agreed to pay him $200,000 for the recordings, and paid him a $25,000 advance with a promise of the $175,000 balance within 60 days.

The reason for the delay, Combs allegedly told Sabatino, was that Combs had heard that police were looking at Sabatino as "a person of interest" in the Wallace murder investigation, the suit says.

Combs was worried, the suit alleges, that "if someone found out that Bad Boy paid Sabatino such a large amount of money that it could be mistaken for something else" -- presumably, a reward for the killing.

In 1998, Sabatino was indicted and convicted of fraud and racketeering charges. Sabatino, who is still in prison, says Combs began to dodge his phone calls and letters and has continued to do so.

Sabatino's suit claims that Combs incorporated the exclusive rap recordings into Bad Boy's hit 1999 release "Born Again" and the film footage into a music video called "Dead Wrong" to promote the CD, which sold several million copies. Sabatino's suit says he will provide documentation to show that Combs put $2,000 into his prison account in 1999 and that Combs' sister, Keisha, visited him in jail and sent letters promising payment, the suit says.

Combs' representatives denied the allegations.

"Nuisance lawsuits against celebrities are at an all-time high and the two filed this week are just additional examples of how people try to shake down Mr. Combs," a spokesman for Combs said Thursday. "The fact that one was filed by someone in jail, about things that supposedly happened 14 years ago, shows just how ridiculous it has gotten."

In the other suit filed this week, promoter James Waldon said Combs ordered his three bodyguards to attack him this month at the Box, a New York nightclub. Waldon's suit says that one bodyguard punched him in the face as the others beat and kicked him repeatedly.

Combs' bodyguards chased Waldon around the club before he escaped, the suit says. Waldon has sued Combs for $5 million, alleging that the beating left him with many injuries, including mouth and dental problems.

Combs' representatives dismissed Waldon's claim as another "nuisance suit."

"Mr. Combs has successfully fought these lawsuits in the past and expects to do the same with these," the spokesman said.

Combs issued a statement this week accepting legal responsibility for a 15-month-old baby girl after DNA tests confirmed that she was his daughter.

Over the last year, Combs repeatedly denied that he had fathered a daughter with Sarah Chapman, the child's mother.

"Mr. Combs has acknowledged his responsibility," his spokesman said. "He will do all he can to love and support his child."



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