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

Page 5 of 13

Bad news for Knight followed shortly, when the D.A.'s office in Los Angeles obtained a security camera videotape of the attack on Anderson at the MGM Grand and decided Knight's participation was a violation of his probation. When Knight showed up for his court hearing in February 1997, he was wearing not one of his famous red suits, but rather the blue coveralls of an L.A. County jail inmate. But nothing about the hearing was more remarkable than this: South-side Crip Orlando Anderson, whom virtually everyone believed to be Tupac Shakur's killer, had come to court to testify on behalf of his sworn enemy, Bloods gang member Suge Knight. "I seen him pulling people off of me," Anderson swore on the witness stand. Judge Czuleger, like virtually everyone else present, concluded that Knight was paying Anderson for this performance. Czuleger ordered Knight to begin serving the nine-year prison sentence that had been suspended two years earlier. Two weeks later, Notorious B.I.G. was shot dead in Los Angeles.

The most startling discovery he had made about the circumstances surrounding Shakur's murder, Poole told Sanders, was that among the security staff working for Death Row in Las Vegas that evening was an LAPD officer. Richard McCauley, it turned out, was the only LAPD officer who had ever officially applied for a permit to work for Death Row Records. That permit was revoked in early 1996, however, and McCauley had been ordered to avoid any association with Death Row. Information that he had violated that order, and was in Las Vegas on Death Row's payroll at the time of Shakur's killing, would produce the only investigation the LAPD has ever made of its officers' involvement with the record label.

It seemed as if one of the dirtiest cops in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department was playing puppet master to the whole city.

Poole had learned about McCauley's involvement with Death Row from the senior lead officer in the LAPD's West Valley Division, Kenneth Knox. Knox had first visited Knight's CAN-AM Recording Studios on June 23rd, 1996, because of complaints from neighbors about seeing "armed gang members" coming and going from the Death Row studio; studio manager Kevin Lewis explained that the people carrying guns were not gang members but off-duty police officers. "Some are your guys," Lewis told Knox.

"As soon as it was suggested that there were at least several, and probably a lot more, LAPD officers working for this gangster organization, the brass told Knox to back off and not to get involved anymore," Poole explains. "He had become convinced that this was a huge scandal in the making." What Poole knew that Knox did not was that three other LAPD officers had been identified by informants as "associates or employees" of Death Row Records. The names of these officers are now familiar to almost everyone in Los Angeles: Kevin Gaines, David Mack and Rafael Perez.

Officer David Mack first came to the attention of detectives investigating B.I.G.'s murder in mid-November 1997, when he was arrested for one of the biggest bank robberies in L.A. history. With the assistance of a girlfriend who worked at a Bank of America branch near the USC campus, Mack and two accomplices had stolen $722,000 in shrink-wrapped bundles. He had pulled a Tec-9 semiautomatic pistol from a shoulder holster under his suit jacket, pointed it at the two women who were counting the cash and told them, "Don't touch those fucking pagers or I'll blow your heads off!"

The girlfriend rolled over on him only a month later, though, and Mack was arrested on December 16th. Mack encased himself in a hard shell from the moment detectives from the LAPD's bank-robbery squad began reading him his rights. "Take your best shot," he told them. At the Montebello City Jail, where he was locked up after his arrest, Mack informed the other inmates that they had better not fuck with him because he was a member of the Mob Piru Bloods, then boasted that the nearly $700,000 remaining from the bank robbery was "invested" in a way that would double his money by the time he was released from prison.

What most interested Poole about the arrest report on Mack was the black Impala SS parked in the garage of his house next to a wall decorated with Shakur memorabilia; detectives described it as a "shrine" to the slain rapper. When Poole asked to have Mack's Impala tested by the LAPD's Scientific Investigations Division, however, "the brass said no," he recalls. "They didn't want to 'step on the FBI's toes.' What bullshit! The LAPD has never cared about stepping on the FBI's toes."

But Mack would not become the focus of Poole's investigation until January 1998, when Poole learned that the first person to visit the arrested officer in jail was a man who went by the name Amir Muhammad. An inmate described by the L.A. County Sheriff's Department as an "ultra-reliable informant" (having already solved two homicide cases for them, deputies said) had reported that the shooter in the Biggie Smalls case was a contract killer who belonged to Louis Farrakhan's elite security squad, the Fruits of Islam, and went by the name Amir or Ashmir. The inmate had been told the killing was ordered by Knight and had something to do with the death of Tupac Shakur.

Muhammad and Mack met as scholarship athletes — Muhammad was a running back on the football team, and Mack was an All-American middle-distance runner — at the University of Oregon in the late 1970s. Poole took a deep breath when he first saw the driver's license photo Muhammad had presented at the Montebello City Jail: While Mack looked nothing like the composite drawing of the shooter in the Smalls case, Muhammad bore a distinct resemblance to the suspect. And Muhammad (whose legal name is Harry Billups) had used a false address and a false Social Security number when he signed in as a visitor at the jail, Poole learned.

When Poole re-interviewed B.I.G.'s best friend, Damien Butler, the detective showed Butler a photo lineup. "I'm sure this guy was standing just outside the door to the museum as we were entering the party," Butler said, as he pointed to a photograph in the upper-right-hand corner. It was Mack's mug shot.

From Poole's point of view, this evidence all but nailed Mack for involvement in B.I.G.'s murder. The detective's superiors told him they did not see it that way. "I was told, 'We're not going that way,'" Poole says. "'Just keep your mouth shut and do your job.'"

Yet Poole's follow-up interviews with Shakur's former bodyguards, Frank Alexander and Kevin Hackie, added to his mounting conviction that the primary link between the murders of B.I.G. and Shakur was Knight. Alexander told Poole he believed the assault on Orlando Anderson had been staged. Convinced by Alexander that he needed to interview Anderson, Poole found the Crip difficult to locate. He finally turned up on May 29th, 1998 — shot to death at a car wash in Compton. Yafu Fula, a childhood friend of Shakur's who was riding in the same car with Alexander at the time of the murder, and who had told Las Vegas police he could identify the killer, was himself shot to death in November 1998 in the hallway of a New Jersey housing project.

"It just seemed incredibly convenient," Poole observes. "The best witness and main suspect in the murder of Tupac, both shot dead, while the case remained unsolved."

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