Posted: 1:26 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23, 2013

Russian mobster-turned FBI informant denies murder charge

Mani Chulpayev speaks one-on-one with Channel 2 Action News
Mani Chulpayev speaks one-on-one with Channel 2 Action News

ATLANTA —

A former Atlanta car dealer who worked as a Russian mobster and FBI informant spoke to Channel 2 investigative reporter Jim Strickland while in custody at the Fulton County Jail.

Mani Chulpayev is expected to be the star witness in the case of a murdered rapper.

Rapper Lil Phat was shot and killed in his car in the parking lot of Northside Hospital in June 2012.

Prosecutors say it was a revenge killing ordered by drug dealers who believe the rapper stole from them. Prosecutors have accused Chulpayev of helping an assassin squad to hunt down the victim.


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Strickland has learned that suspects charged in the murder are customers of Chulpayev's Atlanta car-leasing business.

INFORMANT TURNED SUSPECT

However, Chulpayev told Strickland in the jailhouse interview that he was actually gathering intelligence on the drug operation for the FBI.

"If I'm such a bad guy and so violent and such a convicted criminal, why are three or four agencies simultaneously using me over and over again like a whore?" Chulpayev said. "Of course I'm mad."

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard says Strickland's investigation into Chulpayev's car business helped break the Lil Phat murder case.

Chulpayev says he's actually the one who solved it.

"I'm telling you, the phone records and everything, they got most of the warrants from the judges because of me, because I was a reliable source," Chulpayev said.

"Do you think that 12 strangers can look at Mani Chulpayev and see an innocent man?" Strickland asked.

"On this case? Without doubt. Without a doubt, I have faith," Chulpayev responded.

GPS TRACKING KEY TO CASE

A confidential police report obtained by Channel 2 Action News shows Chulpayev's GPS tracking system in the car was accessed nearly two dozen times the day of the murder.

"This crime could not have occurred had this defendant not told the killers where to find the victim," Senior District Attorney Sheila Ross said during a May 2013 hearing.

The same case report shows Chulpayev called police from Florida only six hours after the killing when he learned from an employee his car was involved. The report shows Chulpayev also called his FBI handler, Dante Jackson, and named suspects Decensae White and Gary Bradford.

"He says, ‘Do not talk to anybody about this case but me. I'm going to be the agent in charge.’ Every interview I ever had was controlled by Dante. ‘This is what you tell 'em and this is what you don't tell 'em,’" Chulpayev said.

Chulpayev said half of his high-end customers leasing cars with GPS tracking were drug suspects under federal surveillance. The trackers in the cars did not require warrants or approval from the FBI. Chulpayev told Strickland that Jackson, along with the DEA and Secret Service, had the credentials to track a vehicle.

Ross said Decensae White, also known as "Grizz", and another Chulpayev client, known as "Eldorado Red" ordered the murder of Lil Phat over 10 pounds of stolen marijuana.

"Drugs and stuff like that is not even my business. I was never into it, through the whole history and all past history. I was never into drugs, I was never into guns," Chulpayev said.

A contract obtained by Strickland showed White agreed to bankroll part of Chulpayev's car business. Chulpayev said
White had access to the GPS tracking, too.

"The kid just invested $160,000 in a month's period of time. So as a partner, I'm obligated to give him the login," he said.

DELAY IN INVESTIGATION

The case report shows Sandy Springs detective J.T. Williams didn't learn there might be a GPS tracker on the vehicle until four months after the killing. It was February before police got a warrant to retrieve and analyze the trackers. Chulpayev said the FBI never divulged their existence.

"Why wait all the way until Paul Howard says to search my car when you had the GPS login all along for your other cases. Why couldn't you use this for this?" Chulpayev said.

The report also shows Jackson interrogated Chulpayev on July 30 and didn't tell Sandy Springs police about it for six weeks.

The FBI confirmed that the Office of the Inspector General has launched a criminal investigation into Jackson's relationship with Chulpayev.

"When does the FBI take responsibility for this so-called handler who was handling me without pay? They hadn't paid me since 2011," he said. "When Dante finally gets under investigation, he disappears, and Mani gets arrested. It's that simple. They were supposed to protect me, not arrest me."

Chulpayev says his desire to bury his father in Israel was the FBI's leverage.

"I still want my green card, so I'm doing everything I can do to please my handler, to get my green card expedited," he said. "I'm sitting here waiting, for what? Waiting to go to trial for murder."

"I'm just a juicy story for Paul Howard. You can put that on TV," Chulpayev said.

Strickland called and emailed Dante Jackson and received no response. The District Attorney's Office will not comment on the case until it is over. The trial is expected to begin in three weeks.

Channel 2 Action News confirmed that Strickland is on the witness list, as is Jackson. Chulpayev called Strickland over the weekend to tell him he intends to testify.

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