The hip-hop label behind music superstars Ashanti and Ja Rule was part of a murderous criminal enterprise that protected its interstate crack and heroin operation with calculated street assassinations

The hip-hop label behind music superstars Ashanti and Ja Rule was part of a murderous criminal enterprise that protected its interstate crack and heroin operation with calculated street assassinations, federal authorities in New York charged today (Jan. 26).

Label head Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo and his brother Christopher surrendered to the FBI on money-laundering charges today as federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment seeking to confiscate all the assets of their label, The Inc.

Their childhood friend, Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, one of New York's most notorious drug kingpins, was charged with murder, racketeering and other crimes that prosecutors said were intended to eliminate and intimidate potential witnesses. He already is in prison on a relatively minor gun charge.

Prosecutors believe McGriff and the Lorenzos funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug profits through The Inc., a chart-topping label owned partly by Island Def Jam, a Universal Music label. A Universal spokesperson did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Gerald Lefcourt, who is representing Irv Lorenzo, insisted yesterday that The Inc. is a legitimate business financed by part owner Island Def Jam, a Universal Music label. The Inc. -— formerly known as Murder Inc. -— has sold about 20 million records behind Ja Rule and Ashanti. "Ultimately, he will be vindicated," Lefcourt said.

McGriff's lawyer, Robert Simels, accused the government of relying on cooperative witnesses who were charged with lesser crimes. "I'll be curious to see which one of these creative geniuses have been able to weave a tale that the prosecutors want to hear," he said.

The record-label chief and McGriff are suspected of funneling proceeds from McGriff's cocaine and heroin operation to The Inc., according to court documents filed in support of search and property seizure warrants.

In recent weeks, federal agents have arrested an accountant for The Inc. and the manager for Ja Rule. At least five other defendants, including associates of McGriff, already have been charged.

McGriff, 44, was founder of the Supreme Team, once one of the city's most violent drug gangs. Investigators suspect that after he finished serving about nine years for drug conspiracy in 1997, he set about reviving his drug-dealing operation.


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