As reports suggest that the far-reaching federal investigation into rap impresario Irv Gotti and his Inc. record label is coming to an end — with arrests coming as early as this week — a lawyer for Gotti associate Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff says that the coming charges are groundless, and that all Gotti is guilty of is loyalty and friendship to McGriff.
"Irv has as much contact with criminal activities as you or I do," said McGriff's lawyer Robert Simels. "And that goes for [his brother and the Inc. president] Chris as well."
Childhood friends Irv Gotti, whose real name is Irving Lorenzo and who is CEO of the Inc. record label (formerly Murder Inc.), and McGriff, a convicted drug lord, have been the subjects of an ongoing probe spearheaded by a Brooklyn, New York, U.S. attorney and which has been investigated by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Internal Revenue Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; United States postal inspectors; and city cops in New York and Baltimore. Investigators refuse to comment on the record, but NBC's New York affiliate and the New York Daily News report that Gotti, McGriff and seven of their associates will be arrested shortly on charges of money laundering and racketeering, with additional charges of murder for McGriff. This development comes two years after the government first raided the label's New York offices and recording studio, in an attempt to determine whether drug money had been funneled into the label (see "Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside The Murder Inc. Raid").
"Irv and Chris are good people," Gotti's lawyer Gerald Lefcourt told MTV News last April, when reports then suggested an indictment for tax evasion was imminent. "They come from a good, intact family, where nearly everyone went to college. They're not criminals. They're hardworking people in the record business. And the money used to start up Murder Inc. came from [parent companies] Universal and Def Jam, not drugs."
"It would be a waste of effort after two years if there weren't some charges being brought," Simels said. "But they can't prove anything. Maybe they think they have some proof, but it doesn't establish guilt. Kenny would say he's not surprised that there are now about to be charges after they've been chasing him for 17 years, but he would be unhappy that they're trying to tie anything to Irv."
Authorities believe McGriff is responsible for multiple homicides, including the killings of drug dealer Karon Clarrett and his friend Dwayne Thomas in 2001, rapper Eric "E-Moneybags" Smith in 2001 and rapper Gerard "D.O. Cannon" Fields in 2003. Smith's death was allegedly caught on a tape found in McGriff's apartment. Two McGriff associates, Dennis "Divine" Crosby and Nicole Brown, have already been charged with the Smith murder and drug trafficking, and are eligible for the death penalty for allegedly carrying out the hit.
"Both [Crosby and Brown] were confidential sources, and cooperators for the prosecutors," Simels said, "who became unhappy with their version of events, and turned them into defendants instead. Anyone in prison for a narcotic charge is asked by the authorities, 'Tell us McGriff is responsible,' and if they do, they get a time reduction, so why not? Every murder, every shooting, they always try to link it to him. And if you tell them what they want to hear, it benefits you. Not to oversimplify the case, but it's not the scenario they claim."
Two other McGriff associates have also been arrested, including Derek Hayes, who was sentenced to six months' house arrest as part of a plea deal, and Jon Ragin, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and is now in the witness-protection program. Two Gotti associates were arrested as well, for conspiring to launder more than a million dollars of drug money: Ja Rule's manager Ron "Gutta" Robinson and Inc. bookkeeper Cynthia Brent (see "Ja Rule's Manager Arrested On Money-Laundering Charges" and "Inc. Bookkeeper Charged With Money Laundering").
The former leader of a New York drug cartel known as the Supreme Team, McGriff was released in 1997 after serving 10 years on conspiracy drug charges. He is currently serving two sentences concurrently in a federal prison: three years for possessing a gun as a convicted felon after taking target practice in Maryland in June 2003, and five years for gun possession in New York on a 2001 charge. His lawyer anticipates that he would have been released on parole next year.