TV One’s Celebrity Crime Files returned last night for its third season with an in-depth look at the death of veteran music executive Chris Lighty. Two years ago, Lighty died from a reportedly self-inflicted gun shot, but the sordid details of his death have haunted his family and loved ones, some of whom just happen to be the biggest names in hip-hop history.
Narrated by Ice-T, the show describes how Lighty had it all: money, family, and a dream job working with the biggest stars in the world. So a suicide—even if some of those elements were in a state if turmoil at the time of his death —did not seem like something the father of six would do. The 44-year old reportedly shot himself after a fight with his wife at their condo in the Bronx. And according to newspaper reports, Chris Lighty owed $5 million to the IRS.
The show asks: Why would a man who had it all choose to end it all? Was it suicide or something more sinister?
Friends and clients like Busta Rhymes and LL Cool J go on record to say they think Lighty was murdered, and imply that it may have been the doing of someone very close to him—his own wife, Veronica.
The episode described Chris Lighty as a brash and innovative music executive who, under the Violator Management umbrella, orchestrated the careers of Sean Combs, 50 Cent, LL Cool J, Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes at various points. “He was the consummate sidewalk executive,” recalls LL. “It wasn’t about an MBA or PhDs, it was just acquired business acumen through years of experience.”
The details of his death remain mysterious, but the facts are: after an argument with his wife Veronica at their home in the Bronx, he had a brief phone call with his accountant. He then walked to the patio of their condo, but what happened next us in dispute. A shot was fired and Veronica calked the police, who arrived to find Lighty dead with a bullet in his head and a 9mm pistol nearby.
Police ruled his death a suicide, but his client and close friend 50 Cent hired a private investigator to dig a little deeper. Private investigator Les Levine says, “I think that the case was closed by the police department too quickly. Knowing what I know now, I certainly have my questions.”
“He was just an amazing caretaker… the worst thing for me was seeing his come out in that [body] bag,” said a choked up Busta Rhymes. “That’s when I knew wasn’t going to see my man no more.”
Lighty got his start with DJ Red Alert when he was managing and producing the Jungle Brothers. Red put Chris on the road, where he began to earn a reputation as a tough-as-nails manager. His roster went on to include Native Tongues artists A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, and his outside-the-box ingenuity caught the attention of Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen. Lighty then joined Rush Management, where he handled Will Smith, Rakim, Run DMC and LL Cool J.
When Rush closed their doors, Cohen and Simmons gave him their blessing to start his own company with some of those same clients, and Violator Management—a multi-million dollar empire—was born. In Lighty’s hands, 50 Cent became a household name and garnered his groundbreaking deal with Vitamin Water.
As Celebrity Crime Files tells it, the 6'2", 220-pound Lighty had no trouble throwing his weight around in the business world, but it was 90-pound Veronica who would end up his greatest foe. He and the American Express employee dated and eloped in 1999.
Lighty and his team were hit hard by the economic recession. Digital downloads began crushing the music business, and by 2010, commissions from his artists were less frequent. It was then that the once responsible and frugal exec couldn’t keep it together anymore and accrued his $5 million tax bill. That same year, Veronica filed for divorce (which she says she later retracted as a Father’s Day gift to Lighty). But tension between the couple remained high.
In June 2011, he was treated for depression at a Connecticut hospital, but returned more stressed than ever. A few months later, he merged Violator with another management company and told his employees, “My name is Chris Lighty. I’m not in a good mood right now.”
On August 30, 2012, Lighty dropped his eldest daughter, Tiffany, off at the airport and doubled back to his Riverdale home to find movers taking his furniture. Lighty spoke on the phone with his accountant, who told him about a new hefty tax bill, and then walked out on his patio. Moments later, a shot rang out.
But Lighty’s younger brother Michael thinks and states that something else happened. “I believe that when Chris went to take his daughter to the airport, [Veronica] expected Chris to go from there to the office. She didn’t expect Chris to double back and come back to the house,” explains Michael. “When Chris got there, I believe that he was like, ‘There’s no way you’re going to put me out of the house that I paid for.’ I believe that an argument took place, and I believe that my brother was shot and killed.”
Michael continues: “There’s no ballistic tests on the gun, and Veronica’s ex-husband happens to be the first guy on the scene. So if her ex-husband is the first guy on the scene and she’s saying she was the only one there, why wasn’t their clothes, their hands tested to make sure this wasn’t a murder?”
“I always sent him notes during the year about how I appreciated all that he did, from a very young age,” said his teary mother, Jessica Brooks, who raised Lighty in the Bronx along with his three younger siblings. “And he said, ‘It’s been a hard road Ma, but I wouldn’t change any of it. It made me the man that I am’.”
Lighty’s mother says the city did not do a thorough enough investigation with this case involving her son. “There were two movers at my son’s house that were not questioned; there were two nannies at my son’s house that were not questioned.” Both the police and Veronica Lighty declined interviews to make any statements for the program.
Veronica Lighty’s only public statement after her husband’s death: “Chris had a lot of weight on his shoulders. Let him die proud, at peace, because that’s what he wanted,” she told a reporter.
With a request still pending to reopen the case, the investigator remains tight-lipped about what he discovered. “They said if we wanted ballistics and DNA done, we as a family would have to pay for it,” says Lighty’s mother. “Well, that’s fine. We’re willing to do that. But here we are, two years later, and we still haven’t gotten the samples from the city to do it. So what is the problem?”