Suge Knight had claimed Cantrock had skimmed money as Death Row’s business manager and head-accountant. American Express had filed a lawsuit against Knight, Kenner and Kenner’s wife claiming unpaid bills of up to $1.5million. Suge and Kenner both blamed the expenses had been incurred by Cantrock. The situation came to a head in the backyard of R&B singer, Michel’le, former girlfriend of Dre’s in the San Fernando Valley. Cantrock was confronted by Suge and Kenner and accused of stealing millions of dollars from the record company. With blows from Suge and his Pirus, he was forced into signing a hard-written confession. The accountant immediately disappeared and word spread that he and his family had fled the country, where in fact by December 1996 he had turned federal witness for the U.S. Justice Department supplying the agency with three years worth of Death Row’s financial accounts.
Civil lawsuits and creditors cropped up from Amercan Express continuing their suit for unpaid expenses generated by Death Row. Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother claiming unpaid royalties for Tupac’s Death Row albums. Suge Knight and Kenner counter-sued claiming Tupac and his family owed advanced monies. Also Solar Records Dick Griffey and The D.O.C. sued Suge Knight for $125million over a breach of promise. Other creditors sought to have the record label put into receivership asking for $75million. More devastating was the claim from L.A.’s D.A. Bill Hodgeman that Suge Knight should serve out his nine year suspension for the Stanley Brothers assault. The MGM CCTV footage was the strongest evidence against Suge despite Kenner insisting Suge was trying to prevent others from attacking Anderson. This would be Suge’s only defence presented. Before the February hearing, Death Row remained in business and released the strongest two albums of the year in the hip-hop world. Tupac’s posthumous, ‘Makaveli’ and Snoop’s ‘The Doggfather’. But as 1996 saw the demise of Suge Knight, so fell his record empire. With Snoop Dogg being the only major recording star still left on the label, after Dre’s disgruntled departure, he too started making moves to leave Death Row. Snoop would later leave loose ends with his manager, Suge’s wife, Sharitha Knight working for Knightlife Management, working under Death Row Records as a subsidiary. A $1.6million lawsuit claim was filed by Sharitha who wanted her money before Snoop gets shot. Snoop believed he was in Suge’s crosshairs when he jumped ship and sought cover and protection from New Orleans outfit, No-Limit Records headed by Percy ‘Master P’ Miller. Fortunately for Snoop, Suge had much more important business on the line, his own freedom.
Suge showed up for court in February ’97 dressed head to toe, not in his blood-red tailored suits but a uniformed L.A. County Jail issued blue jumpsuit. An incredible witness appeared on the side of Suge’s legal team, Southside Crip, Orlando Anderson. The victim in question from the MGM Lobby scuffle used to convict Suge Knight of Probation violation. He claimed Suge was trying to play peacemaker and break up the fight. Anderson was a Southside Compton Crip and it was this gang who worked security for Bad Boy. Evidently he had cursed Suge Knight and the Pirus straight after the attack but before the trial jumped onboard Suge’s defence. Compton police officers attested differently to Anderson’s accounts. Interviewed on October 1996 after the incident in Las Vegas, together with MGM security who stated seeing Suge kick Anderson three times the judge was not swayed by Suge’s tactics. Judge Czuleger declared Suge an active participant in the attack on Anderson. Before the final ruling, Kenner brought in a highly-paid psychiatrist to protest Suge Knight was not “criminally oriented” and insisted Suge was an active social part of the black community and stated he was not a dangerous man. As well as community leaders who testified of Suge’s community aid in Thanksgiving turkeys, Mothers’ Day contributions, Christmas toy drives, C. DeLores Tucker was brought in who believed Suge Knight used his prominence to steer young black men away from gang activity. Tucker was a woman who dared to come up against Suge Knight’s record company and try to tear down the abusive element of rap music by threatening the parent companies of Death Row Records into shutting down Death Row Records. Suge swiftly destroyed her career and reputation. Still the defence stated, if she can forgive Suge Knight the judge should too. Suge pleaded with the judge that he does not want to return to prison and had found a righteous belief in changing the bad image of his dominant rap label and promised Tucker to never use the word ‘nigger’ in his Death Row albums.
Bill Hodgeman rebutted with verbally listing Suge’s rap sheet from the past ten years. Judge Czuleger ordered Suge Knight to be detained by the Californian Department of Corrections for a ninety-day diagnostic examination then return to court in May for sentencing in State penitentiary. It was only two weeks later which saw the death of Bad Boy Entertainment’s Christopher ‘Notorious B.I.G./Biggie Smalls’ Wallace in Los Angeles. Immediate L.A.P.D. investigations all directed their attention to Suge Knight as their prime suspect. Later, details would come to surface involving L.A.P.D. officers working for Suge Knight and his Mob Pirus. The cases entangled around the murders of Wallace and Shakur would shake the grounds of the L.A.P.D. with the strong stench of corruption and cover-ups. This would be known as ‘The Rampart Scandal’. Both cases of the hip-hop’s most talented stars would go unsolved to this day. Several key witnesses were murdered, tampered evidence and left only with pending civil lawsuits, most of which are directed at Suge Knight who from July, 1997 walked in to the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo and for the next following five years would remain locked deep in the chambers of the U.S. penal system.
During Suge’s incarceration several of his Piru homeboys would be murdered, Aaron ‘Heron’ Palmer was shot and killed the same month Suge entered prison. Later in May ’98 assault victim from the MGM scuffle between Tupac and Suge Knight, Southside Compton Crip, Orlando ‘Baby Lane’ Anderson was murdered on the streets of Compton in the midst of escalating warring factions between Bloods and Crips.
Back on the Streets
7th August 2001 Suge Knight was released from a Portland, Oregon prison free to resume business. Welcomed back to the city of L.A. by a huge billboard emblazoned in blood-red lettering from Death Row Records “Welcome Back Suge”. An almost empty record company held together by attorney and business partner, David Kenner and friend, Reggie Wright who headed up Suge’s security company, Wrightway Security. Death Row continued to live off the master tapes of Tupac Shakur releasing several highly lucrative posthumous releases as well as signing T.L.C. star Lisa ‘Lefteye’ Lopez who changed her identity to .N.I.N.A. and joined Suge’s West Coast Management company before her untimely death. Death Row floated on several international distribution companies willing to support the fallen empire. Koch Records held the majority of the company. Suge would continue his bullying, domineering tactics over the music industry only without any stranglehold on any major recording stars.
Parole Violation From Raids
A task force involving L.A. Sheriff’s Department’s Operation Safe Streets Bureau, Special Weapons Team and homicide investigators obtained 17 search warrants through Los Angeles and Las Vegas into Marion ‘Suge’ Knight’s homes and offices related to Death Row Records seeking additional evidence related to numerous unsolved homicides and conspiracy to commit murder. At approximately 5am on Thursday 14th November 2002 the raids began at The Row’s Wilshire Boulevard offices. Guns and drugs were seized in the operation, investigations remained open. Police would not comment on which murder cases were being worked on. As a result, police found reasonable evidence implicating Suge’s continued relations with reputed gang members, which was a direct breach on parole. Suge had moved out to Larry Longo’s Malibu estate and used drivers and security who had not been vetted by state authority and was photographed associating with Bloods. By December Suge was again arrested and sent back to prison for 61 days with community service to follow. His incarceration comes at a time where gangs in L.A. County have put a hit out on Suge Knight with four of his closest Bloods murdered in gang war recently. He was released Tuesday 25th February, 2003 to serve 200 hours of anti-gang community service.
Suge was received with several rounds of bullets fired into the Beverly Hills offices of Death Row. At 2:30 am May 27, 2003 several bullets were fired by unknown assailants damaging the front door, windows and wall of the offices thus never giving a chance for the music label to retain any real business dealings. The record label suffered immeasurably.
Second Parole Violation
In June of 2003 Suge Knight was arrested at the White Lotus Club, an affluent celebrity hangout. Suge had allegedly assaulting parking lot attendant, Mehdi Lazrak for giving Knight the wrong parking space. Lawyer, Robin Yates told newspapers the allegation was ridiculous. “Have you ever seen the size of Suge? If he hit one of those little valets, the guy would be broken,” The Californian Board of Prison Terms was contacted to determine whether he had breached conditions of parole. By August Suge was sent back to jail for 10 months for the breach. He was again released on April 23, 2004 with Kurupt as acting boss of the small-time label. Suge announced they would collaborate with other labels to produce a Christmas hip-hop album to benefit the families of soldiers serving in Iraq. Not a well received stunt.