Fugees Rapper Pras Michel Ran Global Fraud Scheme, Feds Say
Grammy Award-winning rapper Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, best known as part of the Nineties hip-hop group the Fugees, pocketed hundreds of millions of embezzled Malaysian dollars in exchange for running a foreign-influence campaign against the U.S. government, Justice Department attorney Nicole Lockhart told jurors Thursday morning.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Michel addressed the legal behemoth he has found himself at the center of — and includes a decade-long investigation that implicates a host of public figures including two of the past three presidential administrations, Leonardo DiCaprio, Goldman Sachs, and casino tycoon Steve Wynn.
“What benefit would I get trying to break laws? It’s not worth it to me,” he told Rolling Stone prior to his indictment. “I’m like a pariah now. I’ve got friends who won’t talk to me because they think there’s a satellite in orbit listening to them.”
“The defendant needed money and was willing to do anything to get it, including being an agent of the Chinese government,” Lockhart stated during the government’s opening argument of the federal conspiracy trial. “The defendant wanted money and was willing to break any laws necessary to get paid.”
Michel is standing trial with multiple felonies in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging his participation in a conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions using foreign money, witness tampering, and failing to register as an agent of China. He pled not guilty to the charges, the most serious of which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Lockhart told the court that the prosecution will link Michel to Malaysian financier Jho Low, who is suspected of siphoning more than $4.5 billion from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1MDB (1 Malaysian Development Berhad), and a Chinese government influence campaign targeted at extraditing the wealthy billionaire fugitive Guo Weng.
The rapper is being tried on 11 counts including various conspiracy charges for what the prosecution claims were three separate lobbying schemes to bring “secret, illegal foreign influence to bear” during the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Michel has denied the allegations.
“This is a case about foreign money, influence and concealment,” Lockhart said in Washington on Thursday. Lockhart added that the case will highlight “political intrigue, backroom dealings … burner phones and lies.”