LOCAL

Personal dispute is focus of rap probe

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The investigation of Notorious B.I.G.'s slaying is focusing on the likelihood that the rapper was gunned down over a personal dispute with a Compton gang member, law enforcement sources say.

Investigators have found no evidence that the March 9 slaying after a Los Angeles record industry party was linked to either a bicoastal feud in the rap community or Los Angeles street gang rivalries.

Although the primary suspect in the killing is a member of a set of Crips, he was believed to be acting over a personal financial dispute, not on behalf of the gang, sources said.

Ironically, the rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was apparently killed by a member of the same Compton Crips set he had hired to protect him on trips to Los Angeles during the last year. An alleged member of the same set is the key suspect in last September's Las Vegas slaying of rapper Tupac Shakur, police have said.

One law enforcement source said investigators have yet to uncover any evidence confirming widespread speculation that Wallace's killing was connected to the Shakur slaying.

Wallace was gunned down shortly after midnight outside the Petersen Automotive Museum on Fairfax Avenue in the Mid-Wilshire district.

He was sitting in the passenger seat of a sports utility vehicle at a red light on Fairfax when a dark sedan pulled up in the next lane. Police say that a man in the dark sedan stuck a 9-millimeter handgun out the window and pumped at least seven rounds into Wallace's vehicle at close range and sped off.

However, sources close to the rapper offer a different account of the slaying. They say a man walked up to Wallace's vehicle and began talking to the rapper in a friendly way. As Wallace rolled down the car window to "give him five," one source said, the man pulled a gun and began firing. The gunman jumped back into the dark sedan, which sped off as it sprayed Wallace's vehicle with bullets.

Over the past week, more than a dozen LAPD investigators have interviewed about 200 witnesses to gather information about who may have killed the 24-year-old New Jersey rapper. On Monday, Lt. Ross Moen said two detectives were flying to New York for follow-up interviews with witnesses to the shooting.

Moen declined to discuss the case further, saying it was an ongoing investigation.

"There are a lot of people saying different things, but we're not going to get into that," he said.

Wallace, a burly onetime crack dealer from Brooklyn who had several brushes with the law before becoming a rap star, was in Los Angeles to record music this month and to attend the Soul Train Music Awards.

Before his death, Wallace was often at the center of speculation about a cross-continent feud between him and West Coast rap players such as Shakur and Death Row Records owner Marion "Suge" Knight, who has long been associated with members of the Mob Piru Bloods gang in Compton.

Wallace and executives at Bad Boy Entertainment, the company for which he recorded, often employed members of the Southside Crips as security, according to an affidavit filed in court by a Compton Police Department officer.

According to the affidavit, prepared in support of search warrants during an October gang sweep, Shakur's slaying was the result of gang rivalry between Death Row-affiliated members of the Mob Piru Bloods and the Southside Crips.

The affidavit contends that about one week after Shakur was shot, Crips in Compton were bragging that the gang had received money from an undisclosed source on the East Coast and was seeking to buy guns.

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After Shakur's shooting, police were inundated with tips that reputed Southside Crips gang member Orlando Anderson was responsible for Shakur's shooting, the affidavit said. About one week after Shakur was shot, police confiscated bullets from a house where Anderson's cousin was living, as well as weapons from a Compton residence of Anderson's uncle, the affidavit says.

Wallace had been employing Southside Crips for security for at least a year, law enforcement sources say. At the 1995 Soul Train awards show, one Crips member of Wallace's security force drew a weapon and got into a scuffle with an armed member of Shakur's entourage at the Shrine Auditorium, sources say.

Before attending the industry party the night he was shot, Wallace spent much of the day at a Compton park with a group of Southside Crips gang members, sources close to the rapper said. Several of those gang members, who sources say were part of his security force, also accompanied him to a celebrity basketball tournament game at Cal State Dominguez Hills that afternoon.

Sources say Wallace's killer believed that he had been shortchanged in an undisclosed financial transaction several months ago. Sources said Wallace had been warned during recent weeks that his life would be in danger if he did not pay the alleged killer.

Wallace's new album, due out in two weeks, is called "Life After Death . . . Till Death Do Us Part."

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