ATLANTA, April 29 (UPI) -- The case of slain rapper Lil Phat took another turn in Atlanta Monday with the FBI saying it's investigating allegations an agent shielded a suspect.
WSB-TV, Atlanta, reported the FBI said it is investigating allegations the unidentified agent tried to keep Mani Chulpayev, a former Russian mobster-turned-car dealer, from being implicated in the June shooting death of the 19-year-old Lil Phat, whose real name was Melvin Vernell III.
"With respect to allegations of misconduct involving one of our special agents, the FBI Atlanta field office not only acknowledged an awareness of those allegations but took swift actions to address the matter," the FBI said in a statement to WSB-TV. "The details of those allegations were promptly forwarded for further review to our Office of Professional Responsibility.
"While we're prohibited in discussing the details of that internal investigation or the current status or assignment of the special agent involved, the FBI would like to reassure the public that the FBI holds all of its employee to the highest standards and that those allegations being made in the various media reports will be addressed as part of our previously mentioned internal process."
District Attorney Paul Howard said Chulpayev was identified as a suspect soon after Lil Phat's assassination-style killing while sitting in a car in a hospital parking lot.
Asked if federal interference had delayed the murder investigation, Howard said determining that was not his top priority now.
"Maybe sometime after we get this murder [investigation] completed then we'll look at some of the people that are involved in this incident, like the FBI participation," Howard said.
Chulpayev's attorney, George Plumides, had little to say about his client's federal connections other than to say "he feels a little betrayed" by "higher-ups."
WSB-TV reported Friday three of four suspects in Lil Phat's death were in custody, including Chulpayev, who is accused of ordering a contract killing, using two gunmen from Alabama. Howard said Lil Phat had told police two days before he was killed Chulpayev had leased him a BMW that had been reported stolen.
"Mani had nothing against this kid and grieved when he found out he was killed," Plumides told WSB-TV.
Plumides said Chulpayev has an alibi in Lil Phat's death.
Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Chulpayev was a key informant against Eurasian crime organizations operating in New York City.
"The alleged motive for the murder was drugs and other 'business' dealings in which the suspects were involved," Howard's office said in a statement to RIA Novosti.
Chulpayev was arrested in Florida April 12, the district attorney's office said.