BROOKLYN, New York — It took the federal government five days and a handful of witnesses to present its case against Irv and Christopher Gotti — the brothers behind the Inc., the label home of Ja Rule and Ashanti — who're accused of laundering more than $1 million in drug proceeds for Queens crack kingpin Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. On Tuesday (November 29), the Gottis' attorneys called a single witness, forensic accountant John Ryan, and two hours later, rested.
On Wednesday morning, both the prosecution and the defense will offer their closing arguments inside Brooklyn's federal courthouse. Then Judge Edward Korman will hand it over to the trial's 16 jurors, who could start deciding the fate of the Gottis (born Irving and Christopher Lorenzo) before court is adjourned that same evening. If convicted, the Gottis could be sentenced to up to 20 years behind bars
Before Ryan took the stand, defense attorneys Gerald Lefcourt and Gerald Shargel sought Korman's go-ahead to grill Internal Revenue Service agent Francis Mace about statements he'd made both during his grand-jury testimony and in the search-warrant applications that led to the government's raiding the Inc.'s Manhattan offices back in 2003 (see "Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside The Murder Inc. Raid"). More specifically, Lefcourt claims Mace had said McGriff supplied Irv Gotti the capital he'd needed to launch Murder Inc. back in 1999. Lefcourt argued that Mace's assertions were based on rumors cultivated on the streets.
"Drug dealing was intimately involved with your clients," Korman said, in his denial. "That's a fact. [The government] didn't make that up."
Ryan, a former IRS special agent, was hired by the defense to examine the Gottis' financial records and bank statements, as well as those for the Gottis' various business ventures — Murder Inc. Records, the affiliated IG Records, Top Dawg Productions and Murda Management. Together, Lefcourt and Ryan pored over cash and check deposits made to Irv's own accounts and those of Murder Inc. and Top Dawg.
Next, Ryan provided an analysis of Chris' finances — including a history of ATM withdrawals made between January 2000 and the end of December 2002, which totaled more than $852,000. Shargel — who has represented many high-profile clients over the course of his career, including reputed mobster John Gotti — told jurors a large number of those ATM transactions were conducted inside casinos in Las Vegas; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Mashantucket, Connecticut; Gotti's uninhibited gambling habit was discussed at length in Korman's courtroom last week, as part of the prosecution's case against the rap moguls.
Although Ryan was the defense's witness, most of his morning was spent answering prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny's questions during cross-examination. She got Ryan to admit that he didn't conduct a comprehensive review of the Gottis' finances — only the records the defense assigned him to. He didn't concentrate on cash that was coming in, but mostly trailed cash that left, he said.
"The bottom line is you did not analyze every single deposit of cash," Pokorny said, before asking Ryan whether he noticed strange patterns in Chris' account deposits. He acknowledged that Chris' financial records revealed that hundreds of third-party checks (those cut to one individual, but then signed over to another) were deposited into Chris' account.
"Did you not see notations in their own books to the effect that Chris was cashing checks?" she asked Ryan. He said he had; over the course of three years, Pokorny said Chris cashed, on average, more than $100,000 in third-party checks, using his accounts.
Chris' tax returns were also scrutinized. The prosecution showed that in 2000 Gotti declared about $110,000 in total income — the same year he'd withdrawn more than $153,000 from ATMs.
Ryan, who admitted he was being paid between $50,000 and $60,000 for his expertise by the defense, was eventually asked by Pokorny whether it was true "poor people only commit crimes." Shargel and Lefcourt successfully objected to the question, and soon after, rested their case.
Ashanti, former Island/ Def Jam CEO and current Warner Music Group CEO Lyor Cohen and onetime Island/ Def Jam CEO and current Warner Music Group Executive Vice President Kevin Liles were present in the courtroom for Tuesday's proceedings.