Investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in 2009 probed allegations that Shaquille O'Neal was connected to a beating, robbery and kidnapping by gang members of a man claiming to have a sex tape of the basketball star, according to records reviewed by The Times.
Detectives found phone records showing a "flurry of calls" between the alleged ringleader of the assault and O'Neal's business partner around the time of the February 2008 attack, a sheriff's investigative report said.
O'Neal and his business partner, Mark Stevens, denied any involvement in the attack when interviewed by sheriff's deputies. Neither man has been charged in connection with the case.
The victim, Robert Ross, told authorities in early interviews that he believed O'Neal was behind the attack because of a business deal gone bad, and because O'Neal believed he had a tape of the former Lakers center having sex with a woman other than his wife.
This week, Ross testified in Los Angeles County Superior Court during a preliminary hearing for seven members of the Main Street Crips gang accused of kidnapping him at gunpoint from West Hollywood and beating him while demanding the videotape.
The gang members face charges of kidnapping, robbery, assault with a firearm and criminal conspiracy. Law enforcement officials Wednesday declined to say what role, if any, O'Neal and Stevens had in the incident. But it is clear that early in the investigation, detectives suspected the pair might somehow have been involved.
In a July 2009 letter asking for leniency in Ross' sentencing for federal drug and firearm charges, a sheriff's captain wrote that Ross was cooperating with law enforcement as a victim and witness in a West Hollywood incident that might implicate a "celebrity" ?- an apparent reference to O'Neal. "The motive for the crime was retaliation by a 'celebrity' who believed Ross was having an affair with his wife," Capt. David Smith of the sheriff's Homicide Bureau wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Times.
"The celebrity enlisted the help of seven 'Main Street Crip' gang members with extensive criminal histories to commit the kidnap, robbery, and assault," Smith wrote at the time. "The on-going investigation regarding the celebrity and his manager may also result in charges filed."
On Wednesday, sheriff's officials would not comment on how their investigation had progressed in the two years since Smith wrote the letter, or how their understanding of the motive behind the alleged kidnapping might have changed.
Det. Paul Fournier, the lead investigator on the case, declined to discuss the investigation, saying the probe was ongoing. Attorney Nicholas Tonsich, who represented both Stevens and O'Neal during their interviews with sheriff's investigators, did not respond to repeated requests for comment late Wednesday. O'Neal's management company also did not respond to requests for comment.