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Murder Inc. Paid Kingpin, Sources Say

Authorities investigate whether drug money helped launch the career of music label's founder.

May 01, 2003|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

Rap record label Murder Inc. put a convicted drug kingpin on its payroll after he was released from prison, disguising his identity through phony paperwork, according to sources familiar with a deepening federal investigation of the label.

The disclosure of the alleged payments to Kenneth McGriff was made in an affidavit filed by investigators to justify a January raid on Murder Inc.'s New York offices. The affidavit also alleged that the convicted Queens drug dealer may have played some role in a series of violent incidents, including the wounding in 2000 of rap superstar 50 Cent.

Federal authorities are investigating whether McGriff's drug money helped launch the career of childhood friend Irv Gotti, the founder of Murder Inc. The label is home to such acts as Ja Rule and Ashanti.

As part of their investigation, authorities have widened their hunt for documents to include the offices of Murder Inc.'s partner, rap powerhouse Island Def Jam, and those of its parent company, Vivendi Universal Music Group. Last month, Vivendi Universal asked Murder Inc. to move its offices out of Def Jam headquarters.

McGriff could not be reached for comment. He is jailed in Baltimore awaiting sentencing on a parole violation for shooting a gun at a firing range.

At the time of his arrest on the alleged violation, McGriff allegedly told police he was a Def Jam employee and gave them the fictitious name under which he was being paid by Murder Inc., the sources said. Court documents state that McGriff ruled the crack trade in Jamaica, N.Y., in the 1980s as the head of a gang called the "Supreme Team."

Gotti, whose real name is Irving Lorenzo, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Representatives for McGriff and Gotti have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Executives at Murder Inc., Def Jam and Universal declined to comment. The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, which launched the investigation, would not discuss the case.

In the Jan. 3 raid on Murder Inc.'s offices in Manhattan, federal agents seized computers, documents and at least one handgun. Authorities also froze the bank accounts of several companies involved in a soundtrack for a McGriff-produced film project called "Crime Partners," which has yet to be released.

Gotti recently paid McGriff a $500,000 advance on a $1-million soundtrack deal for the film.

Federal agents continue to pore over confiscated documents, including payroll records that allegedly indicate that McGriff was paid a salary and reimbursed for travel expenses under the false name, sources familiar with the probe said.

Last week, members of a federal task force took into custody Murder Inc.'s director of promotions in Encino on a parole violation.

The arrest came after New York authorities contacted the U.S. marshal's office in Los Angeles and asked that the fugitive task force stake out a house rented by Murder Inc.

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