Thu, Jan 27, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Authorities say Murder Inc was front for racket

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Over the course of about two years, the people walking in and out of the Midtown office of Murder Inc, the record label that represents artists like Ja Rule and Ashanti, were not in themselves exceptional.

But what they were carrying -- shopping bags, duffel bags, gym bags, all stuffed with the cash proceeds of the drug business -- definitely was exceptional, according to law enforcement officials who spoke about a continuing investigation into the record label and its founder, the rap impresario Irving Lorenzo.

Lorenzo, who changed his name to Irv Gotti, is expected to surrender to the authorities Wednesday to face federal racketeering and money-laundering charges that stem from the investigation, which began in mid-2002, the officials said. He has been named in an indictment along with his brother Chris Lorenzo and Kenneth McGriff, who headed a deadly crack gang that held sway over the streets of southeast Queens in the 1980s, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictment is still sealed. More than a half-dozen others are also expected to be charged.

McGriff, who is serving a 37-month federal sentence for gun possession, will be charged with three murders tied to his drug business, including a double homicide in Baltimore, one official said. The pending charges were first reported Tuesday in The Daily News.

Roslyn Mauskopf, the US attorney in Brooklyn, and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly were expected to announce the indictment yesterday. The investigation involved federal prosecutors, the Internal Revenue Service, city police detectives, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The couriers, including McGriff himself, carried roughly US$1 million in cash into the record label's office at 825 Eighth Avenue, near about 50th Street, over the roughly two years, the officials said. The drug profits were then laundered through the record label's accounts and funneled back to McGriff, paying for travel and hotels, one official said.

The record label also got something from McGriff as a result of the arrangement, the official said.

"They got his muscle, his backing," the official said. "It's a violent industry, and you need to have someone with street cred behind you to survive."

Prosecutors have long suggested that Irving Lorenzo used drug money to start the record label, a contention that his lawyer, Gerald Lefcourt, denied Tuesday. "Any allegations that Irv Gotti's company was started with that money is entirely false," he said.

A lawyer who has represented McGriff in the past, Robert Simels, said he was sure that McGriff would aggressively fight the charges.

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