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Vivendi Is Served Subpoenas in Probe

The firm reportedly is asked to provide data relating to financial ties of Murder Inc. founder and a convicted man.

January 22, 2003|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

Federal agents began serving grand jury subpoenas at Vivendi Universal's New York offices in conjunction with a money- laundering probe of the music giant's record label Murder Inc., sources said.

The Paris-based entertainment conglomerate was directed to turn over royalty records, invoices and other data that could help document financial ties between Murder Inc. founder Irv Gotti and Kenneth Mc- Griff, sources said. McGriff is a convicted drug kingpin whose gang ruled the crack trade in Jamaica, Queens, during the 1980s.

Murder Inc., home to stars such as Ja Rule and Ashanti, is in partnership with Island Def Jam, a New York arm of Vivendi Universal, the world's largest music corporation. Vivendi Universal declined to comment.

Two weeks ago, FBI agents raided the Manhattan offices of Murder Inc. and confiscated computers and files. Last week, FBI agents seized the bank accounts of several companies involved in a soundtrack for Murder Inc.'s first film project, "Crime Partners 2000," produced and co-written by McGriff.

Gotti, whose real name is Irving Lorenzo, provided acts from his Murder Inc. roster to appear for free in McGriff's low-budget independent film. Gotti also secured a $500,000 advance from Island Def Jam to help McGriff put the finishing touches on his film's soundtrack, sources said.

McGriff's attorney, Robert M. Simels, said there was nothing illicit about the business relationship between Gotti and McGriff, who was convicted on federal narcotics conspiracy charges and served 10 years in prison. He currently is imprisoned on a parole violation for shooting a gun at a firing range.

"The government has been contacted by individuals involved in the film and soundtrack who can provide documentation to prove that Mr. Lo- renzo's business was started with legitimate funds.... If the government wants to call Island Def Jam or Vivendi Universal a corrupt organization, I would like to see how they intend to back that up," Simels said.

The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment. But sources close to the probe said Tuesday that prosecutors had turned down no offers by Simels or other representatives of McGriff to provide information.

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