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Rap Label's Use of Intimidation Alleged

Court papers say a Murder Inc. associate used the company to launder drug money.

May 02, 2003|Chuck Philips | Times Staff Writer

Murder Inc., which bills itself as "the world's most dangerous record company," has exploited the notoriety of a convicted drug dealer with a reputation for violence to intimidate music industry competitors through threats and extortion, according to a newly unsealed federal affidavit.

The document alleges that a secret and seamless relationship has existed for several years between convicted felon Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff and Murder Inc., founded by his childhood friend, record producer Irv Gotti. The government contends that McGriff has used the company to launder proceeds of his alleged ongoing narcotics dealing, amassed since his 1995 release from prison.

Among other things, the affidavit states that McGriff was being paid by Murder Inc. under various aliases to conceal payments from the label, which is part of Universal Music Group. The government said it has collected evidence showing that McGriff routinely used Murder Inc. money and credit cards for air fare, hotels and limousines.

Records obtained by investigators of communications between McGriff and associates on a two-way pager registered to Murder Inc. reveal him "bragging that his reputation keeps people 'in line.'

"It is well known in the music industry that McGriff has provided Murder Inc. with 'muscle' -- threats, violence and intimidation," according to the affidavit, which was used in January to justify the seizure of bank accounts used by McGriff and associates.

In one passage, the document states that Murder Inc. capitalized on McGriff's reputation "to extort a prominent music executive from another company." No details were provided. The affidavit noted that on the CD jacket for one of the label's offerings, McGriff was credited with "Murder Management."

Information contained in the affidavit was gathered last year from surveillance, informants and public records as investigators prepared to seize bank accounts and raid Murder Inc.'s Manhattan headquarters in January.

Since the affidavit was written, federal agents have interviewed executives from Murder Inc. and its partner, Island Def Jam, a division of Universal Music Group. It could not be determined whether the government's view of the case has changed.

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.

Murder Inc. chief Gotti also could not be reached. He and McGriff previously have denied any wrongdoing. Sources close to Gotti say he has earned millions legally by running Murder Inc. and producing hit records for pop stars such as Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey.

Island Def Jam, which has provided funding to Murder Inc., would not discuss the case, nor would Universal Music Group.

The affidavit is part of a probe by a federal task force into the finances of Murder Inc. and its relationship with McGriff, whose "Supreme Team" drug gang dominated the crack cocaine trade in a Queens, N.Y., housing project during the 1980s. Court documents state that the gang maintained control by murdering competitors and terrorizing the neighborhood while driving in bulletproof cars.

McGriff was convicted of drug trafficking in 1989 and released about six years later. After he was freed, according to investigators, McGriff allegedly was involved in several highly publicized shootings related to narcotics dealing and the rap industry. He has not been arrested in connection with any of those crimes.

One of those was the shooting in 2000 of rap star 50 Cent, who had been feuding with Murder Inc. executives and artists, including Ja Rule.

That same year, the affidavit said, McGriff recovered jewelry that had been stolen from Ja Rule by "using his reputation for violence to intimidate and threaten the robber."

McGriff's criminal influence and activities expanded beyond the music of Murder Inc. into movies, according to the affidavit. He and two other convicted drug traffickers, the government said, are listed as executive producers of a yet-to-be-released film called "Crime Partners," featuring rappers Ice-T, Ja Rule and Snoop Dogg.

One of McGriff's partners in the production, John Ragin, allegedly was running a large-scale credit card scam through a phony company called Tuxedo Rentals.

When authorities raided Ragin's premises in January, they discovered no tuxes but did find 1,000 blank credit cards and numerous pieces of equipment to produce fake cards. Also found were identification documents with Ragin's picture but different names.

After federal agents arrested Ragin on credit card fraud charges, he told them during an interview that he had invested $300,000 of his own money in "Crime Partners." But the affidavit said he and McGriff have "no known source of legitimate income." Neither has filed tax returns, according to the affidavit.

As part of the "Crime Partners" project, Murder Inc. negotiated a $1-million deal with McGriff to provide a soundtrack for the film. So far, he has received a $500,000 advance from Murder Inc.'s partner Island Def Jam, but no recording has been delivered. The money was seized by the government in January as part of its money-laundering probe.

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