Santana “threatened me with death. He said he was going to kill me,” the neighbor told Superior Court Judge James Guida, who sentenced the co-founder of The Dipsets and The Skull Gang to two years’ probation today.
The incident at the Brownstones at Englewood “has caused problems in my marriage [and] my personal life,” the man said through an interpreter. “I had to move out of fear. I pay more rent now. I’ve been having problems with my wife.
“I don’t know if I did the right thing or not by calling the police that day. I saw him assaulting the girl very badly,” he told the judge. As a result, “all these problems happened.”
Santana, who released the mixtape “God Will’n” last week and is scheduled for a Dipsets reunion concert in March, avoided prison through a deal with prosecutors that substantially reduced his potential sentence.
But his troubles are far from over: Charges are still pending against Santana — whose real name is LaRon James — in connection with the discovery of two fully-loaded 9mm handguns, several boxes of ammunition and 17 dime bags of pot during a SWAT team raid of his “Santana’s World” studios on South Washington Avenue in Bergenfield two years ago.
Santana wasn’t there at the time, but investigators arrested freestyle rapper Toby M. “Hynief” Raynor, who co-founded both The Diplomats (aka: The Dipsets) and The Skull Gang with him. Santana later turned himself in and was charged.
Santana, who turns 31 next month, was free on $125,000 bail following the January 2011 raid when police in Teaneck arrested him four months later for driving while on the suspended list.
Then came the incident involving his girlfriend, Kim ‘Bella’ Vanderhee, and his Brownstone Way neighbor.
Given the opportunity, Santana said nothing in court today.
Defense attorney Brian Neary told Guida that his client is “a person of certain notoriety. [H]e should live up to that celebrity and talent status.”
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts noted that the plea deal stems from a trio of charges, two of which involve assaults.
“One is an allegation against his girlfriend, the mother of his children,” Gomperts (photo above) told the judge. “The second was an innocent bystander who intervened when James assaulted her.
“That good Samaritan had to pay a steep price,” she said. “He was threatened, he was terrorized – he actually had to move his family.”
The neighbor, whose children are 2½ and 1½ years old, told Guida: “The only thing I want is for him not to come near me and my family.”
In turn, the judge told Santana the conditions of his probation include not having any contact with the man he threatened to kill for calling police when he assaulted his girlfriend on July 8, 2011, Guida said.
The judge allowed Santana to keep his driver’s license because he needs it to work – another condition of probation.
Authorities originally charged Santana with several counts, including assaulting his girlfriend and the neighbor and violating a restraining order.
His guilty plea was to a single third-degree count of threatening the neighbor.
“Probation would be a positive factor for the defendant,” Guida said, “and incarceration an excessive hardship.”
“I’m hoping this period of probation will help him,” said Gomperts, the assistant prosecutor. “Mostly I hope he will leave his former neighbor and his family alone.”
Santana’s first album, “From Me to U” was released on Russell Simmons’ popular Def Jam label in 2003. His follow-up, “What the Game’s Been Missing!” spawned a Top 10 single: “There It Go (The Whistle Song).”
The son of an African-American mother and Dominican father, he reportedly began rapping at 5 — and at 12, was signed to his first record deal as part of the duo Draft Pick.
In August 2008, Dipset founder Cam’ron told an interviewer that he had sold Santana’s contract to Def Jam Records for $2 million, opening an already-existing rift between the two.
Santana had been working on his third album, “Born to Lose, Built to Win,” on his own Skull Gang label, at the Bergenfield studios. He moved his operations there after running a clothing and music store on Amsterdam Avenue between 150th and 151st Streets in the Bronx.
A few singles from the album appeared, including “Back to the Crib,” featuring Chris Brown.
Then came the Bergenfield raid.
“My name is the biggest so of course they are going to target me as the one to put a lot of the blame on,” Santana later told Rapfix. “I had no clue on what’s going on, I rent the studio out to people. That’s like if I rent the studio out right now to somebody and they choose to bring whoever they want to bring in to the studio. They rented the studio out; I have no knowledge of what’s going on until I come back and your [rental] time is finished.
“Dime bags? I got a phantom and a Bentley outside of my studio; I’m not selling dime bags. That sh– is just crazy.”
After the domestic incident, Santana tweeted: “A! How many mugshots they gonna take of me smfh!!! 46k bail.”
Another tweet followed soon after:
“A! Police impounded my bently so I guess I gotta bring the rose out! f*ck they thought that was my only car lol #Whooooaaaaaa”
“A! It’s the NJ bergen county police they be bored “no action” smh so when they c someone like me they make it a big deal #godforgivethem.”
Members of the Harlem-based Skull Gang (Street Kids United by Loyalty & Loot) have worked with, among others, rap legend Jim Jones, Lil Wayne and Mike Epps. Santana had been working on an album with Lil Wayne that recently was scrapped.
Jones and Santana are planning to join other Dipset members for a one-night reunion concert March 25 at B.B. Kings near Times Square to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of their first group compilation, “Diplomatic Immunity.”
STORY / COURT PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia
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