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Rap Mogul Probed in '95 Case

Crime: Prosecutors are reviewing involvement of Marion 'Suge' Knight in alleged beating. He could face 25-year prison term if convicted under three-strikes law.

January 21, 1997|CHUCK PHILIPS and ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Local and federal prosecutors are reviewing the involvement of rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight in an alleged assault at a 1995 Death Row Records holiday bash, sources said.

The alleged assault could become a serious problem for Knight if it is successfully prosecuted. It could put Knight, who owns the nation's most successful rap record label, behind bars for 25 years under California's three-strikes law.

But the case was rejected by the district attorney's office last year and it is unclear what makes prosecutors think they can now successfully bring charges.

Record promoter Mark Anthony Bell was allegedly confronted by Knight and attacked by several of Knight's associates at a Dec. 15, 1995, party at the luxurious Chateau Le Blanc in Los Angeles, according to two police reports.

The 27-year-old Bell told investigators last year that he was beaten with champagne bottles, robbed and forced to drink a glass of urine as Knight interrogated him in an upstairs room at the Nichols Canyon mansion.

However, Bell didn't file a police report until two days after the alleged incident occurred. He told investigators that he failed to tell officers who arrived at the mansion about the assault because he feared for his life. He then declined to press charges after receiving an estimated $600,000 settlement from individuals affiliated with Death Row, sources said.

Knight has a lengthy criminal history and is being detained in Chino prison. He could not be reached for comment, but his attorney, David Kenner, denied that the rap executive was involved in the alleged attack on Bell.

The 31-year-old rap executive has been behind bars since October for alleged probation violations.

In a 1995 plea bargain, Knight received a suspended nine-year prison term and five years of probation after pleading no contest to charges stemming from a 1992 assault on two aspiring rappers in a Hollywood recording studio.

A judge on Nov. 26 formally revoked Knight's probation for his role in a September assault at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas.

Last month, Knight was transferred to Chino prison for a diagnostic evaluation. He awaits a Superior Court hearing in February at which time he could be sent back to prison for up to nine years. He also faces a probation violation hearing in U.S. District Court stemming from a 1994 federal gun charge.

Under the state's three-strikes law, Knight's two no-contest pleas to the 1992 assault give him two strikes. If he were to be charged and successfully prosecuted for the incident involving Bell, he could be sent to prison for 25 years.

The district attorney's office considered calling Bell as a witness during Knight's probation hearing in November, but decided against it. Law enforcement sources speculated that the alleged attack on Bell could be introduced at Knight's upcoming hearing as an additional violation of his probation.

It is unclear why prosecutors are revisiting Bell's allegations. Last year, the district attorney's office declined to file charges because Bell didn't report the incident to officers who arrived at the mansion. Neither local nor federal prosecutors would comment.

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According to a police report, Bell is a friend of Sean "Puffy" Combs, the New York head of Bad Boy Entertainment, a rival rap label. Bell, who had done promotional work for both Death Row and Bad Boy, said that on the night of the party he was escorted by Knight into an upstairs VIP room.

After the door was closed, Knight began grilling him for the home address of Combs and his mother. When Bell refused to provide the information, Knight's associates allegedly began to strike him. One individual grabbed him from behind in a chokehold until he fell to the floor, the report said.

Fearing he would be killed, Bell tried to escape by jumping off a balcony that overlooked the main lobby of the mansion. Knight's associates allegedly grabbed him and pulled him back into the room, the report said.

Then, according to the report, Knight ordered his associates to clean up the room and make sure Bell was presentable before allowing him to leave.

A friend of Bell witnessed the struggle on the balcony and notified police, who arrived in minutes. But Bell said he was fine and asked the officers to call him a cab. The officers told detectives that Bell had abrasions on his face and arm, but told them he got them in a fall at the party, according to a follow-up police report.

Two days later, Bell began cooperating with police and provided details of the alleged assault, which was described in two police reports.

Bell then hired New York attorney Michael F. Bachner, who notified Knight and Death Row in March that he planned to file a civil lawsuit related to the alleged assault. The suit was never filed, but sources said Bell eventually received a settlement worth an estimated $600,000 from individuals affiliated with Death Row--but not from Knight himself. Several months after the alleged assault, Bell stopped cooperating with authorities, sources said.

Neither Bachner nor Kenner would comment, citing a confidentiality clause in the settlement.

Before receiving his money, sources said, Bell signed a statement declaring that he was "virtually certain" that Knight played no part in the assault.

In that statement, Bell also declared that while he realized he had given several statements to the police after the party, he no longer knew how accurate they were because he was drunk at the time the alleged assault occurred, sources said.

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