Sean Combs’ Cassie Lawsuit Settlement Was Only the Beginning of His Troubles


It took just one day for Sean Combs to settle a bombshell lawsuit in November that accused him of rape and physical abuse. For a moment, it may have seemed that the hip-hop mogul’s lawyers had managed to quickly contain the reputational damage he faced.

But it turns out that Mr. Combs’s problems were only beginning.

For years, accusations of violence trailed Mr. Combs, who since the 1990s has been known as Puff Daddy and Diddy. The accusations had little impact, however, on his public persona as a raffish celebrity who was a fixture in gossip columns, a personal brand crystallized by the name of his music label: Bad Boy. But the suit in November, filed by his former girlfriend Casandra Ventura — who makes music as the singer Cassie — seemed to open the floodgates.

A string of other lawsuits followed, accusing him of various forms of sexual assault and misconduct. Mr. Combs, 54, has vehemently denied all the allegations, but the graphic and detailed complaint by Ms. Ventura — and the headlines that followed — changed that narrative to a degree that now imperils Mr. Combs’s business empire and has made him a pariah in the music industry. And a raid by federal authorities at two of his homes on Monday suggested that authorities are considering possible criminal charges.

As the allegations against Mr. Combs have accumulated, his lucrative business dealings — which, besides music, have included fashion, two liquor brands, a cable television channel and an e-commerce platform — have been threatened. And the employee ranks at Combs Global, his company, are now a fraction of what they were less than a year ago.

A deal with the spirits giant Diageo was the source of much of Combs Global’s income and Mr. Combs’s wealth. But even before the recent accusations, there were signs that the collaboration was fraying. Mr. Combs sued Diageo last May, accusing the company of racism and failing to support a tequila brand they were partners in — allegations that Diageo denied in court papers. The suit was settled in January, after multiple sexual assault suits had been filed, with Diageo saying it had severed all ties with him.

A former Combs Global executive who left amid the lawsuits against Mr. Combs said the legal troubles have led to an exodus at the company, with many employees, among them high-ranking executives, departing because they did not want to be associated with his brand anymore. There were waves of layoffs amid the fallout to Mr. Combs’s business interests, the former executive said, and the spirits division — a major source of income — was gutted. (A representative for Mr. Combs and his companies declined to comment when asked about employee departures.)

Mr. Combs stepped down as chairman of Revolt, his cable TV network and online outlet, in November.

As his businesses fade, Mr. Combs has also become the focus of a longstanding campaign to hold powerful men in the music industry to account for sexual misconduct. UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group that called out the music industry for supporting R. Kelly, has lately focused on Mr. Combs.

“Because of Cassie, and the three other women who came forward to tell their stories, we all now know the real Sean Combs,” Shaunna Thomas, the executive director of UltraViolet, said in a statement. “His brand deals have collapsed, fellow artists have distanced themselves from him and called for accountability, and even though he was nominated for a Grammy Award this year, he didn’t show up because he knew he would not be welcome there.”

Soon after Ms. Ventura’s suit was settled, three more civil suits by women were filed accusing Mr. Combs of rape and assault. A woman who filed her suit anonymously said that she had been gang-raped by Mr. Combs and two other men at a New York recording studio in 2003, when she was 17. That suit also accused Mr. Combs of sex trafficking, alleging that she was with an associate of Mr. Combs’s at a lounge in the Detroit area when Mr. Combs asked her, by phone, to travel with his associate to New York in a private jet.

Jonathan D. Davis, a lawyer for Mr. Combs, wrote in one filing that his client’s reputation, and those of the other two men accused in the suit, had been “irreparably damaged” and that the accusations “resulted in them becoming victims of the ‘cancel culture’ frenzy in the courts — well before any evidence has been presented, and on the basis of rank, uncorroborated allegations.”

Casandra Ventura in 2018. The singer, who records as Cassie, accused Mr. Combs of years of abuse in a lawsuit in November. Mr. Combs denied the allegations.Credit…Dia Dipasupil/WireImage, via Getty Images

Ms. Ventura’s lawsuit also accused Mr. Combs of sex trafficking, saying that he would pay to fly male prostitutes to his location, directing Ms. Ventura to engage in sex acts with them in front of him.

In another suit filed in February, a music producer said Mr. Combs had made unwanted sexual contact, and forced him to hire prostitutes and participate in sex acts with them.

Mr. Combs has denied all accusations against him. “Sickening allegations have been made against me by individuals looking for a quick payday,” he said in a statement in December. “Let me be absolutely clear: I did not do any of the awful things being alleged.”

In recent months, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York have been quietly leading an investigation, conducting interviews with potential witnesses about accusations of sexual assault by Mr. Combs, according to a person familiar with the interviews.

That led to the raids on Mr. Combs’s homes in Los Angeles and Miami Beach by federal officers, who were seen removing computers and other electronic devices. Mr. Combs was also stopped at an airport in the Miami area, apparently on his way to the Bahamas with members of his family. Officers there took a number of devices from Mr. Combs, though he was not arrested, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. A lawyer for Mr. Combs, Aaron Dyer, called the raids an “excessive show of force” that would result in a “premature rush to judgment of Mr. Combs.”

It’s been a stunning change for Mr. Combs, who as recently as late 2023 was being honored for his three-decade career as a producer, music executive and showman. As hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, he was heralded as a business innovator, collecting a global icon honor at the MTV Video Music Awards.

To that point, his legacy had seemed secure.

“This,” he said when accepting the award, “is a dream come true for me.”


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