On the eve of his criminal court hearing, rap tycoon Sean "Puffy" Combs publicly apologized and said he has reconciled with the music executive he allegedly attacked two months ago.
Combs--who was arrested April 16 on felony charges that he and two of his accomplices assaulted Interscope Records' Steve Stoute--said no money changed hands in the reconciliation, but sources said the deal could include a future $1-million payment.
It's unclear what impact the reconciliation might have on Combs' criminal case, but a hearing on the matter in a New York court is scheduled to proceed today. Stoute has previously said that he will testify under subpoena against Combs, who, if convicted, could be sent to prison for seven years.
"I'm extremely sorry for what I did," said Combs on Wednesday, speaking out publicly on the incident for the first time. He is free on $15,000 bail.
"I messed up. It's nobody's fault but my own. I'm not apologizing so that I won't go to jail or so I won't get sued. I've told Steve I'm truly sorry, and I mean it."
Stoute could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the executive said Wednesday that he and Combs had resolved their differences amicably.
The April 15 incident was sparked by a dispute over a music video in which Combs had a cameo appearance. Shortly before the video was set to air, Combs had second thoughts about a scene in which he posed crucified to a cross, wearing a crown of thorns.
On Wednesday, Combs said he had asked Stoute to delete his role in the crucifixion scene before the video aired and had been assured by Stoute and by executives at the record company that produced the video that the cuts would be made. When the video aired April 15 with the crucifixion scene intact, Combs said he couldn't believe his eyes.
"I got very upset. I was incensed," Combs said. "Steve had promised me. Everybody promised me. I decided to drive over to his office immediately. I wanted to know how in the hell this video got out. I went over to his office to argue. But I made a mistake. I handled it completely wrong."
Combs refused to discuss any specific details of the criminal case, citing the advice of his lawyers. Last month, however, Stoute told The Times that 30 minutes after the video aired, Combs entered the Manhattan headquarters of Seagram Co.'s Universal Music Group with several accomplices.
According to Stoute, Combs walked up to his desk and--without a word--punched him in the face and beat him to the ground with a telephone. Combs' alleged accomplices then joined in, Stoute said, and repeatedly kicked him and pummeled him with a chair and their fists. Stoute also said a third bodyguard blocked the exit as Combs overturned his desk and his accomplices trashed his office.
"I feel like the media has distorted a lot of what happened that day, but I just can't get into it while this case is going on," Combs said. "I've got nobody to blame though, really, but myself."
Combs said he telephoned Stoute within a week after the incident to apologize, but Stoute did not return his calls until about May 22. Combs said the two executives met shortly thereafter, apologized to each other and began talking about a reconciliation.
"About a week after that, Steve went to the district attorney and asked them to drop the case," Combs said.
According to sources close to Stoute, the Interscope executive has never asked authorities to drop the case. About three weeks ago, however, attorneys for Stoute and Combs did meet with New York state prosecutors to notify them that a civil settlement was in the works, sources said. At the meeting, prosecutors told both parties they intended to prosecute the case, sources said.
The possibility that Combs might go to jail has cast doubt on the future of his Bad Boy Entertainment record label, which generated nearly $130 million last year for Munich, Germany-based Bertelsmann Music Group.
While the reconciliation with Stoute may have helped Combs dodge one future civil suit, sources said Seagram has also been weighing the possibility of suing Combs and Bertelsmann, primarily to send a message to others that they will not tolerate violence against their employees.
Combs said he was embarrassed that his behavior had caused so many problems for so many of his business associates.
"I made a mistake," Combs said. "I disappointed myself. I disappointed my family. I disappointed Bertelsmann and Seagram and many people who believed in me. I'm looked up to. I'm supposed to be a leader in the world of hip-hop. And I disappointed everybody. Hip-hop was practically violence-free for a couple years there, and I put a scuff on it. For me to do something this stupid was really dumb. I can't say I'm sorry enough."