Fake documents used to implicate Combs

A page-one apology in Thursday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times may not be enough to ward off litigation from Sean Combs against the newspaper for its story implicating associates of Combs in a 1994 assault on rapper Tupac Shakur.

The Times apologized for using documents that were apparently fabricated to support the story that examined the unresolved assault on Shakur at a Gotham recording studio as the catalyst for the feud between East Coast and West Coast rap factions that led to the murders of Shakur and rapper Notorious B.I.G.

“The bottom line is that the documents we relied on should not have been used,” editor Russ Stanton said. “We apologize both to our readers and to those referenced in the documents … and in the story.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chuck Philips, who wrote the story, and his supervisor, deputy managing editor Marc Duvoisin, also apologized.

Combs’ attorney Howard Weitzman indicated that his client was underwhelmed by the apologies and felt the paper was not explicit enough in retracting the allegations that Combs had been informed of a plot to attack Shakur.

“The Los Angeles Times apology is, at best, a first step, but it doesn’t undo the false and defamatory nature of the story, or the suspicion and innuendo that Mr. Combs has had to endure due to these untruthful allegations and the irresponsible conduct of this particular reporter. We have nothing further to say at this time.”

The Times’ apologies followed an investigation launched by Stanton after the Smoking Gun website offered a detailed report Wednesday asserting that the documents were fabricated by an imprisoned conman with a history of falsely claiming to be an associate of Combs and other entertainment industry figures.

An L.A. Times spokeswoman said Thursday that there are no plans for disciplinary action against Philips or Duvoisin. The paper will proceed with its investigation into the story to determine what went awry in the reporting process.

The Times said its story — which first ran online on March 17 and in print two days later — was based on FBI records, interviews with people at the scene of the 1994 shooting and statements to the FBI by an informant.

None of the sources was named.

Philips said Wednesday a former FBI agent examined the documents in question for him and said they appeared to be legitimate.

But Philips said he wished he had done more to investigate their authenticity.

“I now believe the truth here is I got duped,” he said.

Weitzman sent a letter on behalf of Combs to the L.A. Times on March 18, the day after the online story first appeared, denying the allegations and questioning the story’s sources and documents. On Wednesday, Weitzman sent another letter to L.A. Times publisher David Hiller asserting that the Times’ decision to run the story in print rises to the level of “actual malice” and recklessness that is a pivotal consideration in defamation cases. The letter also pointedly stated that the Times’ only became concerned about the validity of the documents “after it was embarrassed by the revelations in the article by the Smoking Gun.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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