By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
But one thing Weinberger has long since learned is that the hip-hop business is driven by image and rumors. His greatest frustration, in fact, is that he has been accused of thuggery. The record executive understandably was perturbed that New Times would discuss matters to which he has never been linked other than through word of mouth. And it's worth noting that Weinberger has never so much as been interviewed by the police, let alone charged with or convicted of a crime.
Still, it would be impossible to ignore the curious aura of menace that has grown up around Weinberger in recent years.
One of the most-talked-about incidents occurred in fall 1998 in the parking lot of Criteria Studios on NE 149th Street. Darren Rudnick, better known as DJ Spin, a widely respected music producer around town, had just finished recording some tracks at Criteria for former Lil' Joe artist Mark Ross.
As Spin, who is white, relaxed in the passenger side of an Infiniti coupe that night, two men jumped out of some nearby bushes and beat him unconscious. It was not a robbery. Spin says he had about $2500 in his pocket and a sleek Movado watch on his wrist. When he came to, his cash and timepiece were still with him. Other than a concussion and some cuts, he suffered no serious injuries. Spin didn't recognize his attackers and no arrests were ever made. But a rumor circulated in the industry that Weinberger was behind the beating, perhaps because Spin was close to 2 Live Crew when the group was feuding with Lil' Joe. Whatever the reason a half-dozen people interviewed for this story brought up the incident and mentioned Weinberger's name. To this day Spin doesn't know why he was attacked. “I don't know who it was,” he says. “I don't have 100 percent proof, but people at his label told me that he was behind it. I was thinking of taking matters into my own hands but figured whoever did it will get what's coming to them anyway.”
Weinberger says the accusation is patently absurd: “I do not hire people to go beat up people. Criteria Studios is in a rough part of town.”
“Joe didn't have nothing to do with what happened to Spin,” Jackson Couamin says, adding that there is a lot of ill will against his boss stemming from the dispute with Campbell and the fact that Weinberger is white. “A lot of guys who look up to Luke see it as, “This white cracker stole [Luke's] company.' They don't know the truth. But that's what the street tends to believe.”
Indeed among his critics in the predominantly black hip-hop community, Weinberger earned the sobriquet Suge White, a mocking homage to Death Row Records chief (and convicted felon) Suge Knight.
On November 23, 1999, Sterling Brooks, Lil' Joe's radio promotions director, arrived at work in his black 1996 BMW 740i. He had been on the job for six months. Although his tenure at the company had been tempestuous at times -- he often clashed with co-workers and his bosses -- he claims nothing prepared him for what happened that day.
When the 36-year-old Brooks entered the office, he found a threatening voice mail waiting for him. “We thought he had some gambling debt or that it was drugs,” recounts Robert MacDonald, the company's chief financial officer. They called the police and filed a report.
Later that day MacDonald and Weinberger say they met with Brooks to talk about his job performance. During the session Brooks excused himself to take a call in his office. “He comes back in and says the guy called again and threatened to kill him,” Weinberger recalls. “We told him he should call the police right away. We found out later he didn't.”
The capper came around dusk: Someone tossed a Molotov cocktail through the passenger-side window of Brooks's BMW. Everyone ran outside. “It was a small fire,” remembers MacDonald, whose champagne-color Diamante was parked on the other side of a thin swath of grass. “There was a lot of smoke.” Weinberger's Jaguar faced the BMW.
A week later Brooks was gone from Lil' Joe Records. His bosses claim he stormed off the job, vowing never to return. Brooks says Weinberger fired him, violating the terms of a two-year contract. In December he sued for breach of contract. Then in March, Brooks, who declined to be interviewed for this story, amended the lawsuit to include accusations that Weinberger was behind the death threats and the car bombing: “Weinberger, in an effort to intimidate Brooks and force him to quit, solicited and procured one or more persons to firebomb Brooks's car; solicited one or more persons to telephone Brooks at work and threaten to kill him; and solicited one or more persons to physically assault Brooks.” Court papers don't reveal what evidence Brooks has to support his claim, and his lawyers, Randy Webber and Howard “Skip” Pita, aren't saying, but to avoid defamation they'll need something more than Brooks's word.
Weinberger says they won't find any evidence. “If I'm going to blow up someone's car, I'm not going to do it while my car is parked right next to it,” he comments. “Also, I'm not going to do it in front of Lil' Joe Records.” Police never questioned him while investigating the matter (no arrests have been made). Weinberger has countersued for defamation. He portrays Brooks as a disgruntled ex-employee.