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Former Suge Knight attorney — already facing witness-tampering charges — accused of $1 million in bank fraud

Former Suge Knight attorney — already facing witness-tampering charges — accused of $1 million in bank fraud
Thaddeus Culpepper, shown during an arraignment on witness-tampering charges in connection with Marion "Suge" Knight's murder case, was accused Monday of cashing more than $1 million in stolen U.S. Treasury checks. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An attorney who once represented Marion “Suge” Knight in the rap mogul’s murder case was arrested Monday and charged with cashing more than $1 million in stolen federal tax return checks, authorities said.

Thaddeus Culpepper — who is already awaiting trial on charges that he tampered with witnesses during Knight’s case — was arrested at his home Monday without incident, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said in a news release.

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According to a criminal complaint, Culpepper deposited a U.S. Treasury check worth $1,003,814 at a Wells Fargo bank branch in Pasadena in August 2017. The check was payable to two unidentified people, but Culpepper “allegedly told a bank representative that the payees were clients and had endorsed the check to him,” the statement read.

From April 2015 to August 2017, Culpepper deposited 21 Internal Revenue Service tax refund checks in a Wells Fargo account, the criminal complaint said.

The individuals named on the checks, however, told federal investigators that they never received their tax refunds and did not know Culpepper, according to the affidavit.

Investigators believe the checks were stolen from the U.S. mail, though it is unclear who actually stole them, the affidavit said. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Culpepper had not been accused of the thefts.

Culpepper, 44, originally attempted to represent himself during an appearance in federal court in downtown Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, but was later assigned Deputy Federal Public Defender Charles Brown, Mrozek said.

He was to be held without bond or bail until another hearing Tuesday, Mrozek said.

A call to Brown seeking comment was not immediately returned Monday.

Culpepper was arrested by investigators with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department earlier this year and indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit subornation of perjury, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice and serving as an accessory after the fact to the 2015 murder of Terry Carter in Compton that Knight had been accused of. Culpepper also represented Knight on an unrelated robbery charge.

Matthew Fletcher, a Long Beach criminal defense attorney who previously represented Knight on the murder charge, was also arrested in the tampering case.

Culpepper was allegedly caught on tape agreeing to pay a man to provide testimony favorable to Knight, according to a state court filing made public last year.

The man, who was an informant for the Sheriff's Department, had previously told Culpepper that he was not at the crime scene, but would testify on Knight's behalf, the court documents said.

Culpepper, who is representing himself in the tampering case, previously told the Los Angeles Times that any discussion of money he had with potential witnesses referred to expenses, not specific payment for testimony.

Culpepper and Fletcher are scheduled to return to court in connection with the tampering charges on Oct. 22, records show. Mrozek said it was unlikely the state case against Culpepper would be slowed by federal court proceedings.

Last month, Knight pleaded no contest to manslaughter in connection with Carter’s death, and he could face up to 28 years in state prison when he is sentenced Thursday.

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7:10 p.m.: This article was updated with details from Culpepper’s first appearance in federal court on the bank fraud charges.

This article was originally published at 4:20 p.m.

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