Russell Simmons Talks Irv Gotti, Case Goes To Jury
Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, Def Jam President Jay-Z, artists Ja Rule and Ashanti sat together, while Terror Squad's Fat Joe grabbed a seat in the back of the court to watch the proceedings.
Assistant District Attorneys Carolyn Pokorny and Sean Haran gave closing arguments to jurors, claiming the brothers laundered drug money on behalf of convicted Queens, New York drug dealer, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff.
Prosecutors claim Irv Lorenzo started The Inc. with drug money provided by McGriff.
Simmons, who could be seen kissing his Mala beads during today's proceedings, dismissed accusations that The Inc. was funded with McGriff's dirty money.
"Irv was the best thing to happen to Def Jam," Simmons told AllHipHop.com shortly after court. "I funded his company and he has been a constant source of strength for Def Jam. I am just praying that we spend money reforming or convicting the criminals that are in our communities, and less time and resources chasing the poets and artists who are conscious of and speak about the suffering of the masses."
The government disagrees with Simmons and charges the brothers with helping McGriff launder cash in shoe boxes and shopping bags.
During closing arguments, Pokorny labeled McGriff one of the "baddest, most dangerous drug lords in New York City." She then asked if it would be possible for them to be unaware what their “close friend did for a living."
She then held up a gun, bags of crack and pointed to a chart that listed numerous checks written to McGriff, expenses McGriff incurred and then paid for by The Inc., $65,000 in two separate checks to McGriff's company Picture Perfect and free songs from Jay-Z for the "Crime Partners" soundtrack.
The government alleges that in return, the brothers wrote thousands in checks to companies controlled by McGriff, including Picture Perfect, which McGriff owned with government witness Jon Ragin.
McGriff is facing the death penalty in a March 2006 racketeering and murder trial. McGriff is accused of two drug-related homicides in Baltimore, Maryland and the revenge slaying of rapper Eric "E Money Bags" Smith.
During the trial, Ragin testified that McGriff had conspired to shoot rapper 50 Cent, over the song "Ghetto Quran" and 50 Cent's name checking of McGriff on the track. McGriff was also allegedly unhappy with 50's various taunts aimed at The Inc.'s artist, Ja Rule.
Ragin claimed McGriff hired Ja Rule's bodyguard Robert "Sun" Lyons to carry out a hit on 50 Cent, who was shot nine times in May 2000.
While jurors didn't hear the testimony and Judge Edward Korman would later bar testimony related to 50 Cent's shooting, the claim opened up the door to the possibility that 50 Cent himself may have to testify in McGriff's federal trial in March of 2006.
During closing arguments, Pokorny pointed to various text messages, including one from Chris asking McGriff "what's up with that paper."
She also stated that McGriff's drug dealing gang "invaded" The Inc. and afforded the label protection.
Pokorny stated Chris was "swimming in cash that cannot be explained by legitimate income."
Gerald Shargel then started his closing arguments stating "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt..is she kidding?" Shargel accused the government of taking liberties with the meanings of various text messages.
An animated Shargel also argued that there was nothing illegal in giving financial backing to a movie, referring to two checks cut to McGriff's Picture Perfect Films.
"They are interpreting all of this through dirty glasses," Shargel told the jury.
Shargel said the prosecutors despised the relationship between McGriff, Irv and Chris, but "that doesn't make it a criminal relationship."
He argued that the Lorenzo's legally and legitimately paid for McGriff's travel in 2002, as he was to enter prison. Shargel claimed McGriff was actually broke.
Shargel pointed out that McGriff had no money to launder and stated "if I'm paying for travel, it's Jet Blue."
The government's witnesses were then taken to task as Shargel aimed at their credibility.
Shargel pointed out several inconsistencies between statements given by government witnesses Phillip Banks and Donnell Nichols.
He noted that Banks was a former Supreme Team Member and a convicted perjurer, who was incarcerated from 1997 until 2004.
Banks claimed McGriff brought bags of cash into the office in the mid-90's and that McGriff bought Irv production equipment.
Shargel labeled Donnell Nichols a serial liar. Nichols admitted to working at The Inc. for just six months and only came forward after he saw an MTV News report.
Gerald Lefcourt then gave closing arguments on behalf of the Lorenzo's, stating over 50 agents raided The Inc.'s 8th Ave offices.
"They were desperate to prove what they announced to the world," before telling the jury the publicity was "a casting call for the government to make their case."
Lefcourt told the jury McGriff was so broke, he sold pornographic pictures to inmates using the name Picture Perfect after he was freed from prison.
Lefcourt reiterated that the Lorenzo's two checks, one for $50,00 and one for $15,000, were legitimate investments. He told the jury the government's case was based on "guess work."
"We don't destroy young lives based on guess work," Lefcourt yelled to the jury.
After a break, U.S. Assistant Attorney Sean Haran gave a final summation, stating if the Lorenzo's "took a penny" from McGriff, then the brothers are guilty.
Jurors will reconvene tomorrow at 10:00 am to start deliberations.