LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday launched an internal probe of its recent story about the 1994 shooting of rapper Tupac Shakur after a Web site questioned documents on which the newspaper based its report.
The story by Pulitzer Prize winner Chuck Phillips sought to link rap music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs to the assault on Shakur through two men the paper said were Combs’ associates.
Combs had called the Times story a “lie” and strongly denied any involvement in the attack.
Shakur, one of rap’s rising singers, survived a beating and gunshot wounds to the groin, head, hand and thigh at the Quad Recording Studios in New York City in 1994 but was killed in 1996 in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas.
The Smoking Gun, a Web site that specializes in uncovering news from legal documents and court filings, said on Wednesday it believed Federal Bureau of Investigation documents used by the Times were forgeries.
The Smoking Gun story — posted at thesmokinggun.com — said the FBI documents were created by one of the subjects in the Times’ report, James Sabatino, who is now in jail for wire fraud and racketeering.
The documents have black marks covering the name of the agent or agents who prepared them, appear as if parts were created using a typewriter and “are nowhere to be found” in the FBI’s computer system, according to The Smoking Gun.
The Times said on Wednesday that Editor Russ Stanton “will launch an internal investigation into the authenticity of (the) documents.”
A Times spokeswoman said the paper was “taking this very seriously.” Phillips continues to report for the paper.
The Times story, which first appeared on its Web site on March 17 and days later in print, gave a detailed account of the 1994 attack on Shakur.
At the time, Combs was one of rap’s biggest producers with his Bad Boy Records housing stars like the Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace).
The 1994 attack ignited a widely reported feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers that eventually led to the 1996 killing of Shakur. Six months later, Wallace was shot and killed in Los Angeles.
Neither of the murders has been solved. The identity of Shakur’s attackers at Quad Studios has never been revealed.
The Times story cited “recently obtained” FBI records and an unnamed FBI informant as saying Sabatino and talent manager Jimmy Rosemond planned Shakur’s assault. Combs and Wallace knew Shakur was being set up, the Times said.
In its story, the Times said it contacted the FBI informant and verified he was at Quad Studios on the night of the assault. It said other sources verified the informant’s account.
On March 17, Combs said the story “is beyond ridiculous and is completely false.” A spokeswoman said he had no further comment on Wednesday.
Rosemond, now chief executive of Czar Entertainment, had also issued a statement denying any role. On Wednesday, he said: “I have always maintained over the past 14 years that I had no knowledge or involvement in the assault on Tupac in 1994.”
Combs now runs a business empire that spans music, fashion, fragrances and restaurants. Last year, Forbes magazine estimated his income at $23 million, and he recently starred in a Broadway and television production of the classic play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Editing by Mary Milliken and John O'Callaghan