T.I.’s night to shine at the BET Hip Hop Awards didn’t work out the way he’d probably expected.
The rapper (real name: Clifford Harris) was arrested in Atlanta Saturday afternoon by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on charges of buying illegal machine guns, just hours before he was scheduled to appear at the awards show, according to Reuters. Agents said the rapper was arrested as he accepted delivery of three machine guns and two silencers from a bodyguard. He is due in court Monday.
“This convicted felon allegedly was trying to add several machine guns to an already large and entirely illegal arsenal of guns,” David E. Nahmias, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a statement.
“Thanks to the good and quick work of ATF, he is now in custody and his firearms have been seized,” the statement continued.
T.I. was convicted of a violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act in 1998 and given seven years probation, the Department of Justice said.
An attorney for the rapper, Dwight Thomas, told CNN on Sunday (October 14) he was not aware T.I. was a convicted felon and that “a number of people” live in the rapper’s suburban Atlanta home. The attorney said there are “two sides to every story — sometimes three” and said he believed the legal system would work in Harris’ favor.
The arrest was the result of an undercover operation by ATF agents that started on October 2, when agents learned an individual was seeking to buy machine guns without registering them, the statement continued.
That individual, an unnamed bodyguard for T.I., was arrested on Wednesday after purchasing three machine guns, two silencers and a pistol. The bodyguard said he was buying the guns for T.I., and, in cooperation with agents, arranged to deliver them to the rapper on Saturday. It is a federal offense for a convicted felon to have someone else purchase firearms on their behalf.
“This investigation developed very quickly,” said Vanessa McLemore, special agent in charge of ATF’s Atlanta Division, in the statement. “We learned only this Wednesday that the cooperating witness was allegedly buying the machine guns for Harris. The cooperating witness told Harris on Thursday that he had obtained the items, and on Friday Harris made it clear that he wanted them delivered to him [Saturday]. Harris then agreed to meet and took possession of the machine guns [Saturday] afternoon. He now faces serious federal charges and a potentially long prison sentence.”
The arrest took place in the parking lot of a downtown Atlanta shopping center, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Three other firearms were found in the vehicle T.I. was driving and six other firearms were found a bedroom closet of the rapper’s home, according to Reuters.
On Saturday evening, several ATF agents, most of them wearing medical gloves, carried about 10 boxes, as well as papers and folders, out of T.I.’s house and placed them into a police car at the bottom of the driveway, according to the Journal-Constitution.
At press time, T.I.’s representative at Atlantic Records had not granted MTV News’ requests for comment.
T.I.’s absence from the BET event — where he was nominated for nine awards, more than any other artist — was notable. The MC was scheduled to perform alongside Wyclef Jean for their nominated collaboration, “You Know What It Is,” but with T.I. missing in action, the show’s host, Katt Williams, filled in.
The comedian, clad in jeans, a white T-shirt, hoodie and white hat, appeared onstage and brought the audience to cheers momentarily when fans thought T.I. was in the building. But Williams revealed himself, and ’Clef carried on the set. DJ Drama broke the silence by shouting “Free T.I.” along with Busta Rhymes, and David Banner also voiced his support.
E-40, who was supposed to announce T.I. and Wyclef’s performance, told the crowd, “We’re going to hold it down for T.I.”
“I really don’t know everything that happened,” Mike Jones told MTV Radio. “But everyone showed him love and held him down the right way. I was expecting to see his performance as well, but a lot of stuff went on and I don’t know exactly what happened yet. Whatever’s going on, we got much love for Tip.”
Common took home the coveted Album of the Year nod in a tie with T.I., and accepted the award on behalf of Tip.
Just the other night, T.I. was seen onstage with onetime lyrical rival Ludacris. He put his arm around ’Cris as Luda performed a freestyle verse over 50 Cent’s “I Get Money.” The verse, which has garnered attention on mixtapes, features Luda’s boast about winning the Grammy for Rap Album of the Year, an award Tip openly says he should have won. Witnesses say Tip and Luda’s onstage pairing was not exactly a love fest, although there was no incident.
T.I. was in the middle of working on his new album, a follow-up to this year’s T.I. vs. T.I.P., as well as developing some films. On November 2, he’ll be seen in the film “American Gangster.” He plays the nephew of heroin kingpin Frank Lucas, who chooses between a possible career in the major leagues or being a part of the infamous family business.
[This story was originally published at 9:35 pm E.T. on 10.13.2007]