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More on The Puff Daddy Trials

02.17.01

NEW YORK — Puff Daddy driver Wardel Fenderson acknowledged a few inconsistencies and memory lapses under grueling cross-examination by defense lawyers on Friday, but held fast to the core of his testimony: that he saw Sean "Puffy" Combs with a gun and that Combs later tried to bribe him.

In his initial testimony on Thursday, Fenderson described how Combs, with the help of bodyguard Anthony "Wolf" Jones, allegedly offered him $50,000 to claim ownership of a gun that police found in Combs' Lincoln Navigator. Fenderson had driven the Navigator as Combs, Jones and Jennifer Lopez fled Club New York after the Dec. 27, 1999 shootings there.

Fenderson also described seeing Combs tuck a gun into his waistband before entering Club New York, as well as seeing what appeared to be a gun in Jones' waistband during the flight from the club.

Jones' lawyer, Michael Bachner, asked if what Fenderson described as a bribe was actually a "shakedown" attempt by Fenderson. The witness said it was not.

Fenderson acknowledged that 22 minutes after he, Combs, Lopez and Jones arrived at the Midtown North police precinct, he told a police officer that the gun in the Navigator was his. Earlier, he had said that Combs and Jones began trying to bribe him when they were first brought to the precinct after their arrests.

"It took 20 minutes of intense pressure to compromise you?" Brafman asked Fenderson mockingly.

Fenderson quickly changed his mind in the station house, and told police the gun wasn't his.

The decision, he said Friday, came after he met with a lawyer at the station. The lawyer — who had been hired by Combs and was also representing Jones at the time — told Fenderson that his initial choice to accept the alleged bribe was "f---ing insane," the driver said.

He said Friday that despite his testimony that Combs bailed him out of jail on December 27 as part of the alleged bribery agreement, Combs didn't force Fenderson to pay his own bail once the driver told him that he wouldn't take the blame for the gun.

Fenderson had previously said he was frightened of Jones, and that his relationship with the bodyguard was "tenuous." But Fenderson acknowledged Friday that after they were released from jail, he willingly rode alone in a limousine with Jones and had drinks with him.

Defense lawyers repeatedly reminded the jury that Fenderson was originally charged with gun possession, along with Combs and Jones, but the district attorney's office dropped the charges after Fenderson agreed to testify in the case.

They also brought up the fact that, by his own account, Fenderson committed the crimes of accepting a bribe and making a false statement when he initially accepted blame for the gun. He has never been charged with those crimes. Fenderson, 42, who worked for Combs only on weekends, was fired from his full-time job as a driver for an investment banker shortly after the Club New York incident. The banker fired him, Fenderson said, because he no longer felt safe with the driver, believing that he might face retaliation from Combs.

Fenderson is the fourth prosecution witness to place a gun in Combs' hand, although one of the four, Tarnisha Smith, said that she was no longer sure that the black object she saw was in fact a gun. Fenderson is the first witness to directly link Jones with a gun.

Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos said that he expects to rest his case on Wednesday, after days off on Monday and Tuesday. Defense lawyers said they will begin presenting their case on Thursday.

(Click HERE for a complete explanation of the charges in the case)

—Brian Hiatt

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