by: Jim Strickland Updated:
ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has confirmed that three of four suspects in the high-profile murder of
hip-hop artist Lil Phat are now in custody.
Among the accused is convicted Russian mobster Mani Chulpayev, whom Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland exposed in a Channel 2 investigation focusing on Chulpayev's Atlanta car business.
Authorities said Lil Phat was involved in one of those deals.
"I termed it an assassination," District Attorney Paul Howard told Strickland about the killing.
The shooting happened June 7, 2012, in a parking ramp at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
Howard says Lil Phat, born Melvin Vernell III, was there and about to become a father. He was sitting in an Audi A7 when he was shot repeatedly.
Howard said Lil Phat got the car from Chulpayev and that Chulpayev used a GPS tracker to locate the victim.
Chulpayev is accused of ordering a contract killing, using two gunmen from Alabama.
''He was stalked by these two hit men. It was planned," Howard said.
Howard said Lil Phat had told police only two days earlier Chulpayev had also leased him a BMW that had been reported stolen. Lil Phat was pulled over for speeding in April and was subsequently charged with receiving a stolen car.
Howard said silencing the rapper was at least part of the motive.
"Mani had nothing against this kid and grieved when he found out he was killed," defense attorney George Plumides told Strickland.
Plumides represented Lil Phat on the stolen car charge. Plumides said Chulpayev has an alibi and questions why officers armed with machine guns swarmed to make the arrest.
An investigative crew from ABC News that has teamed with Strickland for months to follow the story was watching as police wisked Chulpayev away in a SWAT vehicle during his arrest April 12 in Broward County, Fla.
"They put him out of business, and they got nothing," insisted Plumides.
"If it had not been for your story, some of the evidence that we've located might not have been located within the same reasonable period," Howard told Strickland.
Chulpayev's attorney said he'll waive
extradition and be transported soon to face charges in Atlanta.
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