Chuck Philips, once a top reporter for the Los Angeles Times, spent over a decade investigating the murders of West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur and his East Coast rival, the Notorious B.I.G.
But in 2008, when it was revealed that the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist had included fake FBI documents, at the urging of his unknowing editors, in his story on Shakur's infamous mugging in New York — the attack that started it all — the Times retracted Philips' reporting altogether, offering him a severance package. The retraction has since ruined Philips' career and reputation.
See LA Weekly print story “Chuck Philips Demands L.A. Times Apology on Tupac Shakur.”
Now, one of Philips' anonymous sources — a New York convict — has come forward to back up the 2008 story. Here's a timeline of the Tupac and Biggie murders, the Times investigation and the Internet swarm that drowned it all out:
Tupac Shakur, rising L.A. rap star, is reportedly shot and robbed outside the Quad Studios in New York. Shakur says in interviews he suspects East Coast hip-hop execs may have had something to do with the shooting, but never cooperates with NYPD investigators looking into the crime.
Shakur is fatally shot in a Vegas drive-by while riding with West Coast hip-hop exec Suge Knight, who runs Death Row Records.
Rising New York rap star Christopher Wallace, otherwise known as the Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie, is fatally shot in a Los Angeles drive-by while riding in an SUV caravan with his East Coast crew.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Chuck Philips writes a story for the Los Angeles Times on Shakur's murder. Mostly based on anonymous sources, Philips reports that Shakur was killed by Compton gang members from the Southside Crips — allegedly paid by Biggie and using Biggie's gun. Philips' story also says that Biggie was in Vegas that night, which many friends and family members later disclaim.
Meanwhile, the Times' ongoing coverage of the Notorious B.I.G. murder — and the rapper's posthumous lawsuit against the city of L.A., filed by his mother — favors the theory that Biggie was killed by the Crips six months after Shakur.
Randall Sullivan pens a long article for Rolling Stone Magazine based on the Biggie lawsuit — providing evidence that Suge Knight orchestrated the Biggie murder, and that at least one LAPD officer was in on it. Lawyers and lawsuit-watchers in the story call Philips and the Times “co-conspirators” in a cover-up, and express incredulity that the entirety of the Times reporting has been based on anonymous sources.
Shortly after, Jan Golab writes a piece, via FrontPageMagazine.com, bashing the Times' coverage of the Biggie murder. He further publicizes a growing conspiracy theory against not only the LAPD, but Philips:
One key witness at the Biggie civil trial, Death Row insider Kevin Hackie, who identified [LAPD officer] David Mack as attending Death Row functions, also stated in a pre-trial deposition that “Chuck Philips was frequently at Death Row functions and received payments from Death Row Records.” Hackie backed off of this statement at trial, but he also tried to back away from everything he had told investigators, stating, convincingly, that “I'm in fear for my life.” Asked what he feared, Hackie stated: “Retribution by the Bloods, the Los Angeles Police Department and associates of Death Row Records.”
The Times runs its final story in the Tupac vs. Biggie series: a whodunit piece on Shakur's 1994 shooting at Quad Studios in New York, two years before his death.
In the story, Philips identifies James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond, a big New York hip-hop CEO, as having helped arrange the attack on Tupac. In response, Rosemond's all-star lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, issues a threatening statement:
“I warned them that if they persisted in publishing the story, they would be sued for libel. Because the L.A. Times was more interested in selling newspapers than reporting the truth, James Rosemond has been tragically libeled. Any first-year lawyer could see that the FBI 302 reports which formed the basis of the Times' story were fabricated — and yet the Times went ahead with the story anyway. I would suggest to Mr. Philips and his editors that they immediately print an apology and take out their checkbooks — or brace themselves for an epic lawsuit.”
Likewise facing huge backlash from the hip-hop community, Philips tells MTV News:
“I've written a lot abut this story because it fascinates me. I've written about doctors, politicians, music executives … all these kinds of stories. So why would I make up only this story? I've gotten over it. At first it was shocking to me when people would say that, but they just don't know what you're doing, and that's their prerogative.”
Within 10 days, New York crime website TheSmokingGun.com reveals that the FBI documents used to corroborate Philips' anonymous interviews are fake — fabricated and filed by a young con-man named James Sabatino with no affiliation to the rap industry, except that he idolizes it.
The Times retracts Philips' story, taking special care to correct the “misimpression” that East Coast record executive Sean “Puffy” Combs might have been “involved in arranging the attack.” Instead of merely identifying the FBI documents as false, however, the retraction also questions Philips' prior investigation:
The Times has since concluded that the FBI reports were fabricated and that some of the other sources relied on — including the person Philips previously believed to be the “confidential source” cited in the FBI reports — do not support major elements of the story.
Many well-known L.A. bloggers, including Nikki Finke and Patterico, call Philips' reporting — both in the retracted story and over the decade beforehand — shoddy and potentially biased. (The LA Weekly wrote an Informer post about it here.)
Philips is let go from the Times during a round of layoffs. In today's Weekly piece, Philips claims his editors told him they paid $200,000 in a settlement with Rosemond.
The New York Daily News runs a story, written by previously uninvolved journalist Alison Gendar, alleging that Rosemond — who Philips had accused of orchestrating Shakur's 1994 shooting — is a police informant. In other words, the Daily News finds that Rosemond, a leader of rap's “no snitch” movement, may have told on fellow criminals to get his own sentence reduced. The story is based on court documents (which the Weekly has since reviewed) and information from Rosemond's former lawyers.
Music blog AllHipHop.com defends Rosemond, guessing that Philips might be behind the “snitch” story. AllHipHop quotes a handful of rappers and industry moguls refuting the Daily News report.
A chain of smaller hip-hop sites aggregate this speculation. MTV's blog RapFix writes, “If the name Chuck Phillips sounds familiar, it's because he's as infamous for slinging questionable articles as Drake is for dropping love songs.” And the Bossip headline reads, “Is Jimmy Henchmen [sic] the Target of a Smear Campaign by an Angry White Journalist Seeking His Payback???”
Rosemond, armed with new all-star lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, announces he's going to sue the Daily News and Philips for over $100 million.
In a dramatic turn, the FBI accuses Rosemond of running a cocaine ring stretching from L.A. to New York. He's wanted by the feds. Rosemond vanishes, and while on the run, issues the following statement:
“I have endured slanderous media for quite some time. Last year, in their frustration, they employed Chuck Phillips and the Daily New to write baseless stories in the media saying I was a snitch (but never mentioned or produced one person I 'snitched' on) to hopefully get people to start cooperating with their bogus investigation. Chuck Phillips started a campaign against me and wrote dozens of letters to inmates serving considerable time in federal prison begging them to cooperate. When those tactics didn't work, they subpoenaed every person that knew me or worked with me in the music industry, including my accountants, lawyers, secretary, etc.”
Philips lashes out at Rosemond, calling up AllHipHop to respond. He says:
“I had no idea Jimmy Henchman was such a sensitive wee man suffering from so many paranoid delusions. Nor did I realize that Tha (self-proclaimed) Gangsta Manager of Rap was in fact a persecuted civil rights martyr at the center of a government conspiracy. Poor Jimmy. Has anyone seen my tiny violin? …
I believe he has confused me with a snitch he once saw in the mirror. I never worked for the government. It is Jimmy who ratted out his own friends for the feds. If he has lost the proffer he signed with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, I can send him a copy to refresh his memory.”
In another dramatic turn, Dexter Isaac, a murder convict recently transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, sends a letter to AllHipHop claiming Rosemond paid him to carry out the 1994 attack on Shakur. Like Philips and the Daily News, he reports that Rosemond is, indeed, a government informant (partly to clear his own name, as Rosemond has accused him of the same). Isaac, who Philips tells the Weekly was one of his unnamed sources in 2008, writes that Philips has been “crucified” by Rosemond. The confession, in part:
“In 1994, James Rosemond hired me to rob 2Pac Shakur at the Quad Studio. He gave me $2,500, plus all the jewelry I took, except for one ring, which he wanted for himself. …
Now I'm not going to talk about my friend Biggie's death or 2Pac's death, but I would like to give their mothers some closure. It's about time that some one did, and I will do so at a different time. Jimmy, you and Puffy like to come off all innocent-like, but as the saying goes: You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
Mr. Rosemond, I ask you: Are you going to flip on Puffy when the feds get you? To save yourself like you have done in the past?”
The Times runs short wire stories on the Isaac confession, largely ignoring it.
June 16, 2011
Two men “tied to” Rosemond, according to TheSmokingGun, are arrested for the murder of an associate of rapper 50 Cent — the same 50 Cent associate who allegedly beat up Rosemond's son a couple years earlier. New York Magazine reports that Rosemond — who manages the Game, 50 Cent's rival — may have paid for the hit.
June 20, 2011
After a month on the run, Rosemond is arrested by federal officials in a Manhattan foot chase. Feds tells the Weekly he was the “principal leader” of an L.A.-to-New York cocaine ring that has allegedly distributed hundreds of kilos since 2008.
June 21, 2011
Philips demands that the Times run a front-page retraction of its 2008 retraction. He claims editors “fucked up [his] story” by insisting he include Sabatino's forged FBI documents — but that otherwise, his reporting was sound. Philips tells the Weekly that he wants his reputation back.
Did we miss a step in the saga? Let us know, below.