Prosecutor Alleges Drug Ties To The Inc. In Gotti Trial Opening

Irv Gotti's attorney claims the label never laundered money for drug dealer.

The Inc. bosses Irv and Christopher Gotti appeared in Brooklyn federal court Wednesday morning for the start of their federal money-laundering trial on charges filed earlier this year. Ja Rule and Ashanti, the label's MVPs, turned out to support them.

In his opening argument, assistant U.S. attorney Sean Haran outlined the case federal investigators spent years building against the Gotti brothers, whose real names are Irving and Christopher Lorenzo. According to The Associated Press, Haran accused the pair of running a covert money-laundering operation via the Inc. (formerly Murder Inc.) and its corporate bank accounts. The prosecutor alleged that the Gottis accepted shopping bags and shoeboxes crammed with cash — the proceeds of convicted crack dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff's drug-dealing enterprises — and then, through what Haran called "sham" film and record deals, cleaned those illegal profits (see "Irv Gotti Pleads Not Guilty, Released On $1 Million Bond").

Prosecutors believe this method was utilized to launder more than a $1 million of McGriff's money. In return, Haran said McGriff served as the Inc.'s protector and enforcer. Haran told the court that he plans to introduce evidence that the Gottis were aware of an alleged plot — concocted by McGriff, who was also indicted on federal charges back in January — to gun down 50 Cent, the AP reports.

"All of it was a fraud," Haran told jurors. "[McGriff] was a drug dealer and [the Gottis] knew it."

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The defense vehemently denied the allegations and instead applauded the brothers' entrepreneurial spirit and hard-fought rise to become lucrative businessmen. Irv Gotti's attorney, Gerald Lefcourt, countered that the Gottis never laundered money for McGriff. Their affiliation with him was little more than a well-orchestrated attempt to bolster the label's hip-hop image, he explained.

"It made sense to work with him because he provided a certain street credibility to Murder Inc.," Lefcourt said, according to the AP. "He also provided a deterrence to shakedown artists and thugs." Lefcourt also told jurors that federal agents willingly overlooked crucial evidence that would have cleared his client.

One prosecution witness, former McGriff employee Phillip Banks, testified that he personally delivered thousands of dollars in cash to Irv Gotti in the mid-1990s, New York's Newsday reports. During Lefcourt's cross-examination, Banks acknowledged that he didn't know why the money was given to Irv Gotti.