The Unsolved Mystery of the Notorious B.I.G.

Page 12 of 13

At the Byrnes hearing, Boagni had tried to tell the panel what Perez had told him about his own involvement in B.I.G.'s murder. "But as soon as he started talking about that," Hermosillo says, "the LAPD's representative jumped to his feet and cut it off, saying it was "under investigation.'"

What the scant available record reveals about this "investigation" is that Cliff Armas, from the LAPD's Officer Representation Section, visited Boagni on a number of occasions at Calipatria State Prison in 2000; Boagni told the officer about the involvement of Perez and Mack in B.I.G.'s shooting. Armas told Boagni he would pass along the information to another investigator. When a pair of LAPD detectives showed up at the prison where Boagni was housed, the inmate assumed they were the investigators Armas had spoken of. The two detectives, though, were members of the Task Force, a group that was committed to the validation of Perez's story. Boagni began to suspect that the two detectives had a hidden agenda; they seemed bent on trying to trip him up and persuaded him not to testify. Boagni filed a complaint that led eventually to an Internal Affairs Division investigation in which he was interviewed many times. The details of that investigation are also under seal.

The single most remarkable fact the judge and attorneys released to the public was this: Boagni offered to wear a wire on Perez to see if he could get him to admit he was lying about the accusations he had made against his fellow officers and to implicate himself in the Biggie murder, and the LAPD turned him down. As Sanders and Frank would note in the Motion for Sanctions they filed with Cooper, "There would appear to be no possible legitimate LAPD motivation for such rejection of help."

The LAPD's wild-eyed attempt to defend itself against these charges left Judge Cooper shaking her head. In a deposition of Katz that she ordered, the detective said he'd been sitting in court "reviewing his chronological record" when he saw Boagni's name and realized he "forgot" to inform the attorneys on the case about the tapes and documents in his possession. Early that evening, he returned to his office and was told by his commanding officer that Internal Affairs was about to lock down the entire division to search for the Boagni materials. Katz handed them over-not to his supervisor, but to a private investigator working for the city on the B.I.G. lawsuit.

City Attorney Don Vincent attempted to mitigate the damage to his side by arguing that Boagni was an insignificant witness who might easily have been over looked. The judge was having none of it. Katz's claim that he forgot about the Boagni material in his desk was "utterly unbelievable," she ruled: "The detective, acting alone or in concert with others, made a decision to conceal from the plaintiffs in this case information which could have supported their contention that David Mack was responsible for the Wallace murder." The judge listed eighteen of the documents that Katz had hidden from the other side in this case, before addressing Vincent's arguments. "The sheer volume of information attests to the seriousness with which [the LAPD] treated this informant's statements and belies [the city's] current position that he is just another jailhouse informant seeking favors."

While the judge could not bring herself to award the plaintiffs a default judgment (which would end the trial in favor of the plaintiffs), she felt she had no choice but to declare a mistrial. The judge awarded the plaintiffs "fees and costs" as a sanction for the city's misconduct.

Sanders and frank were at once exultant and overwhelmed. They knew that in the next trial likely to occur next summer — the city would have to defend itself against a vastly expanded lawsuit before a judge who quite clearly had become convinced that their claim had merit. "The law of the case is that the LAPD potentially withheld information," Frank explains. "And now there's been a judicial finding of that fact. So we have won the most significant point before we even go to trial. Their lead investigator has been found to be a liar and a cheat."

The inclusion of Perez as one of the officers implicated in B.I.G.'s murder changed everything, Sanders and Frank knew. The scandal and the lengths to which police and city officials had gone to protect Perez from those who knew him as a fabricator were now an essential aspect of the case. This allowed the attorneys to demand a vast trove of documents that related to Perez's plea deal, his secret testimony and the investigations that resulted. Sanders and Frank believe there are still grounds for default judgment. Notations on the Boagni evidence demonstrated that at least nine of Katz's superiors going up to the rank of assistant chief-were aware of its existence and relevance. "Katz wasn't alone in this," Frank says. Sanders adds, "If we can catch them withholding other documents, I believe the judge will have to declare a default verdict in our favor."

How much could the city of L.A. stand to lose? In the court report by economist Peter Formuzis on B.I.G.'s future earnings potential, Keith Clinkscales, former president of the company that founded Vibe magazine, had described B.I.G. as "the world's most popular hip-hop artist at the time of his murder"; the report estimated that he would have earned at least $362 million during the remainder of his life. The estate's lawyers could claim every penny of that, and perhaps a good deal more. After the mistrial, Sanders says, he was contacted by a number of "concerned parties" — including political figures in Los Angeles — worried that this lawsuit might bankrupt the city.

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