In federal court in Brooklyn yesterday afternoon, Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo, CEO of the Inc. (Ja Rule, Ashanti), and brother Christopher both pleaded not guilty to charges of laundering more than $1 million in drug money through the label. After being charged that morning, the two promptly surrendered to the authorities and were each released on a $1 million bond. Queens crack dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, a longtime Inc. associate, was also charged, with murder and racketeering.
According to the charges, the Inc. was part of a crack and heroin business run by McGriff and sustained by strategic street assassinations. Witnesses have told authorities that McGriff had confessed to the 2001 killing of rapper E-Money Bags, and he is a suspect in the shooting of a possible informant one month later. McGriff, a founder of the "Supreme Team" drug gang currently in prison on a gun charge, finished serving nine years for drug conspiracy in 1997. The Inc. was founded under the name Murder Inc. that same year.
"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," Gotti stated after yesterday's hearing. "I call myself 'Gotti,' I made my label 'Murder Inc.,' I grew up poor, from the street. . . . In no way have I done anything wrong except make great music that people seem to love. That's all I'm guilty of."
Gotti's lawyer Gerald Lefcourt, who represented Abbie Hoffman, has stated that the Inc. is financed through cash from Island Def Jam.
The charges against Gotti and Inc. affiliates are the result of a three-year federal investigation involving the FBI, IRS, New York and Baltimore city police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and U.S. postal inspectors. A total of eight other Inc. and McGriff associates have been charged thus far, including Ja Rule's manager.
Since its inception, the Inc.'s earnings have totaled $200 million. The assets of McGriff's companies, Picture Perfect Films and Picture Perfect Enterprises, have been seized, and authorities are currently preparing to seize the Inc.'s assets.
Despite posting bail, the Lorenzos may not leave the tri-state area without prior notice and must turn in their passports by next week. If convicted, Gotti and his brother face up to twenty years in prison, while McGriff is eligible for the death penalty.