July 2, 2022 — Sean (Puffy) Combs is the quintessential hip-hop mogul and the epitome of New York entrepreneurial spirit. His dad, Melvin (Pretty Melvin) Combs, was the quintessential hustler in Harlem in the 1970s. According to DEA documents and federal court records from the era, Pretty Melvin Combs worked closely with Harlem dope-slinging titans like Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes. He was killed back in the winter of 1972 when “P-Diddy” was just two and a half years old.
Puffy Combs, 52, pioneered the shift in mainstream music from pop to rap in the 1990s, creating careers for iconic recording artists Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Mase and Lil’ Kim as a transcendent impresario producer while making a name for himself as a best-selling rapper later in the decade as well. Soon, he parlayed his music empire into sizable business interests in a variety of other successful ventures capitalizing on his easily digestible brand of classy, cool and hip.
Fast-living “Pretty Melvin” Combs was shot to death behind the wheel of his Cadillac near Central Park on January 26, 1972 in what he thought was to be a drug deal, however, was in actuality an ambush. Two months earlier, he had been busted by a team of undercover feds for possessing five pounds of heroin and $45,000 in cash.
There were rumors circulating that Pretty Melvin was cutting a cooperation deal. Those rumors have never been confirmed.
The narcotics-trafficking organization that the stylish and handsome 33-year old Combs belonged to was led by Willie (J.C.) Abraham and headquartered out of his Gold Lounge in Harlem on Seventh Avenue. The Abraham organization was dismantled shortly after Combs’ still unsolved murder. Abraham and a half-dozen associates were found guilty in a drug-conspiracy case at a federal trial in 1973. Authorities considered J.C. Abraham responsible for ordering the hit on Combs, but never had enough evidence to charge him, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.
Abraham was a contemporary and sometimes partner of Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes, the premier African-American drug kingpins in Harlem at the time. Pretty Mevin Combs would often act as a go-between for Abraham sending messages to Lucas and Barnes, per DEA informant files. Combs owned a controlling interest in a local taxi cab company and would frequently conduct business in a taxi that he would drive himself for work assignments, according to NYPD drug unit files.
Lucas and his Country Boys Gang were chronicled in the 2006 movie American Gangster starring Denzel Washington. The more sophisticated and ruthless Barnes was dubbed “Mr. Untouchable” by the New York press and founded “The Council,” a mafia-inspired board of directors comprised of Harlem dope barons sharing proceeds, territory and resources.
Abraham’s crew clocked five million per year in profits from pushing heroin in Harlen, Bronx and suburban Westchester. Abraham traced his roots in the Harlem drug game all the way back to Ellsworth (Bumpy) Johnson in the 1950s and 60s. Johnson was the city’s most notorious African-American crime boss ever, having made his reputation for toughness in the policy lottery wars in the years following Prohibition and then leveraging contacts he made during his prison stays with members of the Five Families into an elite, untouchable status for himself few in Big Apple gangland circles outside the Italian mafia could match at his peak.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Lucas came up through the ranks of the New York underworld as Johnson’s driver and bodyguard. Johnson died of a heart attack in July 1968 at age 63 as he ate a late-night meal in a favorite Harlem diner of his. Johnson was backed by the Genovese crime family. Nicky Barnes cultivated strong relationships with mobsters behind bars and used contacts in the Colombo and Lucchese crime families for his supply needs.
Much like Barnes, Abraham’s organization maintained tight links to New York mob networks for its supply line, specifically plugs he had in the Colombo and Gambino crime families. Federal surveillance logs and court filings tie Abraham and his lieutenants, including Pretty Melvin Combs, to Alphonse (Funzi) Sisca of the Gambinos and Benji (The Claw) Castellazzo of the Colombos. Both Barnes and Lucas became cooperators and died free men.
Castellazzo, 85, is allegedly the Colombo’s underboss today and under indictment in a federal racketeering case. Sisca, 77, has long operated out of New Jersey and is a reputed semi-retired capo, tasked with looking after all Gambino affairs in the Garden State since the late 2000s.
Throughout his career in the music business, Puffy Combs has always faced questions regarding his connections to underworld figures. He went to high school and remains close friends with Gambino capo Andy (Sonny) Campos, considered by many mob experts in New York as a surefire future administrator in the Gambino organization.
Combs and Campos played football together at a private Catholic school (Mt. St. Michael’s in the Bronx) in the mid 1980s. With Campos being the school’s all-state quarterback and Combs getting most of his snaps on defense out of the secondary, the team won a league title in 1986.
The 51-year old Sonny Campos is currently serving a three-year prison term. He is a two-time convicted federal felon for mob-related white-collar fraud scams, including skimming millions “off the top” from internet porn sites, 1-800 calling card packages and a construction company he owned.
DEA intelligence reports dated May 2004 contain allegations that Puffy Combs got early funding for his groundbreaking Bad Boy Records from the historic Black Mafia Family out of Detroit and Atlanta. Puffy’s first cousin, Darryl (Poppa D) Taylor and former bodyguard and one-time Bad Boys Record Head of Security, Paul (P.J.) Buford were both indicted and eventually convicted in 2005’s landmark Operation Motor City Mafia case.