April 30, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

The April 15 launch party for Bad Boy Entertainment chairman Sean ”Puffy” Combs’ magazine, Notorious, at New York’s Limelight was teeming with A-list celebs. Among them were Sting, Jerry Seinfeld, Elton John, Uma Thurman, and Donatella Versace. But how many of the guests would have choked on their caviar if they’d known that just hours before, their gentlemanly host had allegedly used a champagne bottle, a phone, a chair, and the assistance of two thugs to savagely pummel a record executive?

By the next day, when details emerged about the attack on Interscope Records exec and Nas manager Steve Stoute, 28, a collective gasp was audible from the streets of Harlem to the posh environs of East Hampton (where Combs, 29, maintains a $2.2 million estate). After turning himself in at Manhattan’s Midtown North precinct April 16, Combs was charged with second-degree assault and criminal mischief. According to reports, the attack, at Stoute’s midtown office, was motivated by Nas’ video for ”Hate Me Now,” which features scenes of Combs and Nas tied to crosses. Combs reportedly worried that the images were blasphemous and asked Stoute to either cut the scenes or stop the video from airing. But ”Hate Me Now” debuted on MTV — unedited — April 15, and Combs allegedly went ballistic. The network has since pulled the video, saying it’s ”awaiting the arrival of a new” version that meets the approval of both Bad Boy and Nas’ label, Columbia. MTV refuses to say who asked it to yank the clip.

Since the attack, security at Interscope’s offices has been beefed up. ”They’ve got a lot of guards walking the hallways now,” says one staffer. Another insider, who works on the same floor as Stoute, says the office was ”a complete wreck [after the attack]. Desk overturned, everything taken off the walls.” It’s since been cleaned up and remains locked. As for its occupant, Stoute ”is taking a couple of days off to gather himself together,” says his assistant. Although the extent of his injuries remains unclear, a spokesperson for the Manhattan DA says Stoute suffered ”abrasions and contusions,” and possibly a fractured arm. Combs, meanwhile, is free on $15,000 bail; if convicted, he faces up to seven years in jail.

”He was worried about being on a cross, but he’s on a corporate cross now,” says Def Jam president and Combs confidant Russell Simmons. ”It’s going to be a costly lesson for him. In the end, I think this will amount to a big [settlement] check for Steve Stoute, and a valuable lesson for Puffy.” Still, it’s conceivable the DA could prosecute even if Stoute doesn’t press charges, says Charles Adler of the Criminal Law Committee of the New York Bar Association, ”if [he has] a sufficient case.”

Combs declines to comment, and his attorneys didn’t return calls, but Simmons says his friend is ”very upset” about the incident. And some of his key associates haven’t been banging down the doors to offer public support. Celeb lawyer Johnnie Cochran — who in March was reported to be forming a management company with Combs to represent pro basketball players — declined an interview request, though a Cochran spokesperson calls the partnership news ”premature.” Clive Davis, whose Arista Records owns half of Bad Boy, and who is said to meet often with Combs, is unavailable for comment. Other industry execs are also keeping mum on Combs’ arrest.

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