Rap Industry Probe Suspect Cuts Plea Deal

A rap industry insider has quietly cut a plea deal with New York authorities investigating alleged ties between music label Murder Inc. and the city's violent drug trade.

A rap industry insider has quietly cut a plea deal with New York authorities investigating alleged ties between music label Murder Inc. and the city's violent drug trade. Court papers show that Jon Ragin -- a convicted drug dealer who co-produced a recent film marketed by Murder Inc. -- pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges. Another man arrested with Ragin earlier this year, Derek Hayes, has also agreed to a plea bargain with prosecutors in Brooklyn.

Prosecutors have described Ragin as a close associate of Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, a convicted drug kingpin suspected of secretly bankrolling Murder Inc., home to multiplatinum artists Ashanti and Ja Rule.

Murder Inc. is a 50-50 joint venture between McGriff's longtime friend, Irv Gotti, and Island-Def Jam Records, a division of Universal Music Group, which is owned by Vivendi, according to documents filed in an unrelated case.

Neither McGriff, Gotti nor any of Vivendi's companies have been charged in the ongoing investigation. McGriff and Gotti deny any wrongdoing. Calls to Ragin's attorneys were not immediately returned; a lawyer for Hayes declined comment. Prosecutors refused to discuss the case.

Ragin and Hayes were arrested during January raids at various New York locations, including the Murder Inc. offices and a sham tuxedo rental business linked to a 1999 murder. The men were accused of using the tuxedo shop as a front for laundering proceeds from stolen credit cards.

Bank records revealed that more than $500,000 went through the tuxedo shop's account between 1998 and 2001, despite "the lack of legitimate business," court records said. Agents found more than 1,000 credit cards and credit card duplicating machines during a search of Ragin's address.

Prosecutors also alleged several luxury cars registered to the business were linked to burglaries and other crimes. In December 1999, for instance, "an individual was surveilled and videotaped dropping the body of a homicide victim ... at a hospital in an SUV registered to Tuxedo Rentals," the papers said.

Ragin, 34, pleaded guilty last week to credit card fraud and money laundering, and faces 15 to 19 1/2 years in prison at sentencing on Oct. 31. Hayes, 39, pleaded guilty last month to making illegal bank deposits. He faces six months to one year in prison at an Oct. 6 sentencing hearing.

In June, McGriff, 42, was sentenced to 37 months in prison for illegal possession of a handgun. He had served 10 years in prison for running a crack-dealing crew in Queens responsible for several murders.

According to an affidavit filed earlier this year, an informant told federal investigators that while "Gotti is the public face of Murder Inc., McGriff is the true owner of the company."

The affidavit was filed in support of a warrant authorizing seizure of bank accounts related to "Crime Partners," a straight-to-video film marketed by Murder Inc. McGriff and Ragin were listed as executive producers of the movie, which starred Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T.

Ragin "has a lengthy criminal record involving narcotics trafficking and has no known legitimate source of income," the affidavit said. "Investigators believe that Ragin and McGriff have laundered proceeds from their criminal activities through the film."

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