ENCINO, California — Fresh from being exonerated of money-laundering charges, where do you imagine Irving "Irv Gotti" Lorenzo would go? To visit his family in Hollis, Queens? Straight to work at his Manhattan recording studio, the Crackhouse? Maybe even out to Beverly Hills to get some sun and collect his thoughts?
Sure, you could picture any of those things, but that's not where he went. No, we found the hip-hop mogul in a quiet cul-de-sac in Encino, the town made famous by Brendan Fraser's "Encino Man" and where economy cars and minivans line quiet, unglamorous streets. But as the neighbors have come to find out during the five years since Irv and Ja Rule purchased their "Murder Inc. Pad," the serenity can easily turn hyphy.
It's a place where Bloods and Crips have partied in unity, stars like Tyrese have danced with girls so beautiful they make the contestants on "America's Next Top Model" look like scallywags, and it's the spot where Irv and two of his right-hand men, B.J. and Dan Tan, are lounging before going back to NYC.
"The fruits of our labor," Irv said, referring to the home. "This is one of the things that we afforded ourselves to get. It's a nice peaceful home in L.A. where we get away when we want to get away. When we wanna party, we throw a party."
On December 2 — the day he was finally free and clear after being investigated for three years (see "Gotti Brothers Found Not Guilty Of Money Laundering") — Irv definitely partied. His friends rented a yacht and all his loved ones celebrated with Irv and his brother/co-defendant, Chris.
"I'm on cloud nine," Irv said with a grin as he sat next to his heated pool. Given the number of gray hairs now taking residence on his head, however, it's obvious the case got to him. Now that it's over, that stress has been replaced by "a feeling of surrealness," he said. "It's an overall happy feeling for a lot of reasons. It's a happy feeling that my mom and dad ain't gotta worry no more. Just watching them come to court and seeing my mom with the stress, I couldn't help her, I couldn't ease the pain until it was over.
"It's a happiness that the jurors saw through everything and did the right thing," he continued. "It's a happiness that after three years, the cloud the government put over my head is removed. And the sun is now shining. I got my life back and people don't have to be afraid to come near me. People don't have to say, 'Well, if I mess with him, is the government gonna bother me?' "
By raiding his offices and studio, calling into question his friendship to convicted drug dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff and dirtying his name in the media, the government basically put his professional and personal life on halt, Gotti said. He's even been quoted as saying that he thinks the whole case came about because of his "Gotti" nickname and his label's former "Murder Inc." moniker.
"I love this country," he said. "I don't want to live nowhere else. All I'm gonna say is with me they had it wrong. They need to understand hip-hop more. Once they understand us, they would know. I'm nicknamed Irv Gotti, [but] it doesn't mean nothing. There's people nicknamed Noreaga, Fatal Hussein, it's just a nickname. It's not he's Saddam Hussein or wants to be Saddam Hussein. It's a nickname. [Gotti] is a nickname I didn't even give to myself. Hov gave me the nickname and it's stuck."
Gotti said all he wants to do is go back to making music. The last thing he wants is more beef with the government. "They investigated me, and I hope they see they got it wrong and I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "Let me go back to being a great earner. I'll pay my taxes, just leave me alone."
The trial of the Gottis was far from the drawn-out ordeal some had predicted. The trial began November 16 and ended just over two weeks later, with the defense resting after just two hours with only one witness on the stand, a former IRS agent (see "Gotti Defense Team Rests After Only Two Hours").
"We felt the government didn't prove the case and I didn't want to drag my friends ... my witnesses were gonna be a very extensive, a who's who in the business artistwise and executivewise, to explain who I was and where I got my money," Gotti explained. "I didn't want the government to dive into their past, like, 'Yeah, Irv's a good guy but do you know what you did back in '83?' I didn't want them to have to go through that. I made a decision with my attorneys and my brother: 'They didn't prove their case, let's get it over with.' "
If only it were that easy. Gotti tells a tale of an agonizing wait for the jury to deliberate. Since he'd never been to court before, he thought he could go home and wait until the jury came to a verdict. He quickly found out that he had to wait in court during deliberations.
"You sit and you wait and you're scared like you wouldn't believe," he said. I.G. can laugh and joke about the situation now, but a couple of weeks ago he would cringe each time the jury sent a note to the judge. (" 'Somebody must be saying I'm guilty,' " he remembered telling his lawyer. "Each time a note comes out it's like, 'Oh God, no.' ")
"I was scared to death, but I also wanted it over," he added. "I was tired of waking up with the knots in my stomach and I was like, 'Whatever it is, let it be. If my destiny is to go to jail for 10, 20 years, I'm ready and let's do it. If my destiny is to get my life back, let's do that.' I was ready to face whatever I was gonna face."
And just like that, a little after 6 p.m. on December 2, the Gottis were free men.
"I'd never been in tune with God like how I've been in tune with God [lately]," Gotti said. "It's a clarity."
After the trial, the jurors requested to meet with Irv and his mother. One of the jurors even told him that she wasn't going to let anything happen to him.
There's still a long road to go for the Lorenzos. With the legal problems put aside, they have to get back on track with their record company (see "Ashanti Eager To Put Her Label's Legal Woes Behind Her"). The Collectables by Ashanti remix album and Ja Rule's Exodus greatest-hits LP both went virtually unnoticed in their first week of release, and their 2004 studio albums both failed to reach 1 million in sales.
Gotti blames the Inc's recent sales dip on sabotage from the higher ups at the Universal Music Group. Although he said he has no problems with Jay-Z or L.A. Reid at Def Jam (he still considers Jay a close friend and said his respect for Reid is immense), he and all the artists on his roster have defected from the label and are looking for a new distribution home. Irv said he's gotten calls from plenty of CEOs and he fully expects the Inc. (the "Murder" is still officially dropped from the label name, but Irv said he realizes people will always refer to it as Murder Inc.) to get back on its feet in 2006.