How The Smoking Gun Exposed a Fraud

Last Updated Mar 27, 2008 7:50 PM EDT

In the wake of the L.A. Times scandal, I asked Bill Bastone, Editor of The Smoking Gun, how he and his colleagues came up with their scoop.

Here is his reply:

"A couple of the FBI documents were posted, as part of a big online package, by the LATimes last week when their story went live.

"We downloaded the supposed FBI 302s and they just did not look like any other 302s that we've seen--type, font, kerning, character renderings, etc. were way off. And it sure looked like they had been created on a typewriter (the documents were purportedly created during 2002)."

(Note here to readers: An FBI 302 form is a report of an interview by one or more FBI agents with a witness. They often are submitted as evidence in criminal cases.)
Bastone continues: "We (our three-person staff) then did a further examination of the documents, compared them with pro se court filings prepared by James Sabatino, compared them with other 302s that Sabatino had filed as exhibits in a civil lawsuit he filed a few months ago against Sean Combs, etc.

"And then we started focusing in on the contents of the FBI reports, much of which was demonstrably false and seemed geared to make Sabatino appear as if he was a major rap music figure when, in fact, he was nothing more than a wannabe with an incredibly long rap sheet (and who was sitting in a federal penitentiary).

You can read a detailed blow-by-blow of this excellent piece of investigative reporting at The Smoking Gun site.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital,, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.