NEW YORK -- Rap moguls Irv and Chris Gotti pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of laundering more than $1 million in drug proceeds through their record label, the Inc. (formerly Murder Inc.), in federal court in Brooklyn.
The brothers, who surrendered to authorities Wednesday morning (January 26), were released after a $1 million bond was posted for each. They face up to 20 years in prison.
The convicted drug lord they are alleged to be in partnership with, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, and several of his associates face the death penalty for homicide. The brothers' next court date is scheduled for March 18.
After the hearing, Irv Gotti made a brief statement. "I'm gonna give you guys one comment. I want to make it very crystal clear that I don't look [badly] at the government in any way, shape or form for them thinking I'm doing anything wrong. I call myself Gotti, I made my label Murder Inc., I grew up poor, from the street. But I don't look bad at them for thinking ill things of me. In no way have I done anything wrong except make great music that people seem to love. That's all I'm guilty of."
"They don't call it gangsta rap for nothing -- the thug image isn't accidental," New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, before adding "this is not an indictment of rap music. If you're involved with money laundering or drug dealing or committing murder, we're coming after you, irrespective of [the music]. That's our business."
The brothers, both wearing jeans and puffy overcoats, pleaded not guilty through their respective lawyers. While being questioned briefly by the judge, Irv stood with his hands in pockets until his lawyer nudged him, after which he assumed the more conventional stance of holding his hands behind his back. He turned to smile at his family -- including his parents, his wife, his sisters and his brothers-in-law -- some of whom joined him before the judge later in the hearing.
The bond was secured through property that Irv and his parents own and live in.
Restrictions were placed on the brothers' bail: They are prohibited from leaving the Tri-State area (of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) without giving prior notice to pretrial services; they may apply through their attorneys for permission to travel overseas. They must surrender their passports by February 4. Irv also must undergo random drug-testing evaluations and possible treatment; he is responsible for the cost of any treatment. Both must report once a week by phone to pretrial services.
At the press conference, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf noted that none of the artists on the Inc., whose roster includes Ja Rule and Ashanti, were "implicated or affiliated" in the alleged crimes.
After a lengthy federal investigation that involved agents from the FBI; the IRS; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. postal inspectors; and city police in New York and Baltimore, authorities believe that the Gotti brothers, whose real names are Irving and Christopher Lorenzo, were involved in criminal enterprises led by McGriff, a convicted drug lord (see [article id="1496236"]"Irv Gotti May Be Arrested As Early As This Week For Money Laundering, Racketeering"[/article]).
"As today's arrests show, that proved to be a bad investment," Mauskopf said, calling the brothers "willing allies," and thus partners in the enterprise.
The assets of McGriff's companies, Picture Perfect Films and Picture Perfect Enterprises, have been seized; their combined worth is approximately $425,000. Authorities are seeking to seize the assets of the Inc. and the affiliated IG Records as well.
The indictments come two years after the government first raided the label's New York offices and recording studio in an attempt to determine whether drug money had been funneled through the label (see [article id="1459565"]"Drugs, Friends & Allegations: Inside The Murder Inc. Raid"[/article]).
McGriff, along with eight associates, has been indicted for racketeering, illegal use of firearms, drug distribution and homicide. The associates include Inc. bookkeeper Cynthia Brent, who was arrested on money-laundering charges in November and released on a $200,000 bond (see [article id="1493554"]"Inc. Bookkeeper Charged With Money Laundering"[/article]); Ja Rule's manager, Ron "Gutta" Robinson; Vash-Ti Paylor; Nicole Brown; Dennis "Divine" Crosby; and Victor Wright.
Authorities allege McGriff is responsible for multiple homicides, including the killings of drug dealer Karon Clarrett and his friend Dwayne Thomas in 2001 and rapper Eric "E-Moneybags" Smith in 2001.
They claim Wright, who is also charged with drug distribution, killed Clarrett and Thomas on McGriff's orders; authorities claim that Clarrett's associates suspected him of collaborating with federal agents. Brown and Crosby have already been charged with Smith's slaying as well as drug trafficking and are eligible for the death penalty for allegedly carrying out the hit.
"Irv and Chris are good people," Gotti's lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, told MTV News in April. "They come from a good, intact family where nearly everyone went to college. They're not criminals. They're hardworking people in the record business. And the money used to start up Murder Inc. came from [parent companies] Universal and Def Jam, not drugs."
"Irv has as much contact with criminal activities as you or I do," McGriff's lawyer, Robert Simels, said Tuesday. "And that goes for [his brother and the Inc. President] Chris as well."
The former leader of a New York drug cartel known as the Supreme Team, McGriff was released in 1997 after serving 10 years on conspiracy drug charges. He is currently serving two sentences concurrently in a federal prison: three years for possessing a gun as a convicted felon after taking target practice in Maryland in June 2003, and five years for gun possession in New York on a 2001 charge. His lawyer has speculated that he would have been released on parole next year.
This story was updated at 5:29 p.m. ET.