The hip-hop label behind music superstars Ashanti and Ja Rule was part of a murderous criminal enterprise that protected its interstate crack and heroin operation with calculated street assassinations, federal authorities charged Wednesday.
Label head Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo and his brother Christopher surrendered to the FBI on money-laundering charges Wednesday as federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment seeking to confiscate Irv Gotti’s real estate and business holdings.
Gotti’s childhood friend, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, one of New York’s most notorious drug kingpins, was charged with murder, racketeering and other crimes that prosecutors said were intended to eliminate and intimidate potential witnesses.
McGriff already is in prison on a relatively minor gun charge.
Prosecutors said McGriff and the Gottis funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of McGriff’s drug profits through The Inc., a chart-topping label owned partly by Def Jam, a subsidiary of Universal Music.
Recording in a studio dubbed "The Crackhouse," The Inc. has sold about 20 million records behind Ja Rule and Ashanti, who were not charged in the indictment.
Defense lawyer Gerald Lefcourt said the Gotti brothers had been unfairly targeted for trying to help a respected figure from their rough Queens neighborhood. "I think it’s a perfectly legitimate operation," Lefcourt said Wednesday. "Ultimately I expect Irv and Chris to be vindicated."
McGriff’s lawyer, Robert Simels, said his client told him from prison Wednesday that "it’s a shame that people who tried to help him in a legitimate way are involved in defending themselves in a criminal case."
The indictment charges McGriff and his associates with running a drug operation stretching from New York through Baltimore into North Carolina.
McGriff and his partners delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds to the Manhattan offices of Murder Inc., according to the indictment. In exchange, Irv Gotti paid McGriff’s travel and hotel expenses and cut him checks from Gotti’s personal and business accounts, prosecutors charge.
The indictment charges McGriff and several associates with the murder of potential government cooperators Dwayne Thomas and Karon "Buddha" Clarrett outside a Baltimore-area stash house in August 2001. They also are charged with the slaying of up-and-coming rapper E-Money Bags that summer.
McGriff, 44, founded the Supreme Team, once one of the city’s most violent drug crews. Investigators suspect that after he finished serving about nine years for drug conspiracy in 1997, he set about reviving his lucrative drug-dealing operation.
Federal agents closed in on McGriff and the Gottis in recent months with arrests that netted Ja Rule’s manager and a bookkeeper for The Inc., who also are named in Wednesday’s indictment. At least five other defendants, including associates of McGriff, already have been charged.
The Inc. was founded as Murder Inc. in 1997. Gotti changed his label’s name last year to deflect negative publicity from the investigation.