NEW YORK — As they strolled up to Brooklyn's federal courthouse Friday morning (December 2), Irv and Chris Gotti faced the prospect of up to two decades behind bars. More than eight hours later, Irv emerged from the very same courthouse pumping his fists in the air in triumph.
"We did it," the rap mogul proclaimed.
On Friday afternoon a jury exonerated the Gotti brothers (born Irving and Christopher Lorenzo) on federal charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. With his arms wrapped around the Gotti defense team, Gerald Shargel and Gerald Lefcourt, Irv vowed to resume business as usual at the Inc. — business that's been in a state of limbo since more than 50 government agents raided the label's offices in early 2003 (see "Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside The Murder Inc. Raid").
"Me and my Inc. family, you're going to be hearing some music," he said, sporting a perma-grin as one of his biggest roster talents, a cigar-toting Ja Rule, circled the crush of reporters surrounding Irv. "I'm overjoyed. I am not getting in any more trouble — you can bet your bottom dollar on that one. Not even jaywalking. We never did anything. We were guilty of knowing someone from our neighborhood."
That someone was Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff. In its case against the Gotti brothers, the federal government tried to prove that Irv and Chris had, over several years, accepted shopping bags and shoe boxes overflowing with hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicitly gained cash (see "Irv Gotti Pleads Not Guilty, Released On $1 Million Bond"). The prosecution accused the label heads of cleaning the tainted money by cutting legitimate checks to McGriff, written from the Inc.'s corporate bank accounts.
But, as one of the 12 jurors (eight men, four women) told the rabble of media outside the courthouse, they didn't buy it. The juror, who would not provide his name, said the jury didn't accept the credibility of the government's witnesses: a cab driver, a former Inc. intern and two self-admitted career criminals who specialized in credit-card fraud and narcotics peddling. He added that the presence of celebrities like Jay-Z, Damon Dash, Fat Joe, Ja and Ashanti at the trial (see "Jay-Z, Ja Rule, Ashanti, Fat Joe On Hand For Gotti Trial Closing") didn't impact their final decision. "We were concerned about the facts," he said.
Throughout the trial the defense argued that the Gottis didn't take a penny of McGriff's drug profits but did maintain an association with him because it afforded the moguls added street cred and helped ward off threats to their swelling empire.
An audible gasp resonated throughout Judge Edward Korman's courtroom shortly after 6 p.m. when the announcement was made that the jury had reached a decision after 12 hours of deliberation. After the verdict was read, Irv and Chris buckled and shed tears of relief. Chris hugged his attorneys, Irv mouthed "Thank you" repeatedly to the jurors and the brothers' supporters sobbed. Irv later said he'd recited "about 100" Hail Marys in his head in the minutes before the four not-guilty verdicts were read.
Outside the courthouse the prosecutors — Sean Haran and Carolyn Pokorny — refused to comment on the verdict. Minutes later a celebration erupted, and Irv and Chris hugged the trial's jurors.
"The jury stood up," said Irv, who added two of the female jurors had told him they loved him and weren't going to let anything bad happen to him or his brother. "In this case, the government had it 100 percent wrong. They went after me because of someone I know. I would never have worked this hard, from nothing to having millions of dollars, to jeopardize it with something stupid or illegal. It's not in my make. Everything this case was about was, if you're from the 'hood and you come up and do well, don't help anyone from there — leave 'em. I'm a good guy. They tried to take my life. I didn't do any of that sh--."
[This story originally published at 6:30 p.m. ET]