Gotti Associate McGriff Convicted Of Murder

A notorious crack kingpin with ties to the hip-hop industry was convicted today (Feb. 1) in a federal death penalty case for paying $50,000 to have two rivals gunned down in 2001.

A notorious crack kingpin with ties to the hip-hop industry was convicted today (Feb. 1) in a federal death penalty case for paying $50,000 to have two rivals gunned down in 2001.

A Brooklyn, N.Y., jury deliberated four days before finding Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff guilty of murder for hire and drug dealing. McGriff, who was acquitted on lesser drugs and weapons charges, looked back and smiled at his supporters when the verdict was issued.

In the 1980s, McGriff founded the Supreme Team, a notoriously lucrative and ruthless drug crew that became legendary on the same Queens streets that later produced rap stars like Ja Rule and 50 Cent.

The defense had claimed that after serving several years behind bars for an earlier drug conviction, McGriff went straight in the late 1990s and pursued his dream of producing movies and music by teaming with Irv "Gotti" Lorenzo, a neighborhood friend who headed the successful Murder Inc. record label.

The same jury will return next Tuesday to deliberate the death penalty against McGriff. Two days ago, a jury in the same Brooklyn courthouse sentenced the killer of two undercover police detectives to death -- the first federal defendant sentenced to death in New York City since 1954, when a bank robber was sentenced for killing an FBI agent. At best, McGriff would face a sentence of life in prison without parole.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block surprised prosecutors last week by asking them to contact Department of Justice officials and ask them to reconsider their decision to seek a death sentence for McGriff, saying a penalty phase would be an "absurd" waste of time and money. The prosecutors told him this week that the officials not changed their minds.

Though disappointed with the verdict, "We're pretty confident this jury will spare his life," said McGriff's lawyer, David Ruhnke. The mother of one of the victims, Karen Cameron, told reporters outside court that she opposed a death sentence for McGriff. "Death is not the answer," she said.

Prosecutors alleged that McGriff, 46, resumed his drug dealing operations in New York and Baltimore, and used Murder Inc. to launder more than $1 million in proceeds. When a little-known rapper named E-Money Bags shot and killed one of McGriff's friends in a 1999 dispute, the defendant allegedly paid a Harlem hit team to kill the rapper and a second man who McGriff feared might retaliate.

"That man sitting in the courtroom is one of the most dangerous, feared, ruthless gangsters in all of Queens," prosecutor Carolyn Pokorney said during closing arguments. "And when Supreme gets in a fight with somebody ... he doesn't go to the cops. He doesn't hire a lawyer. He hires a hit team to assassinate them, to blow them away, so that their moms can barely recognize them when they go down to the morgue."

The defense told jurors that both victims were known thugs who were armed when killed. It also argued that the government had built its case on the false testimony of admitted criminals hoping to see their prison time reduced.

McGriff was originally indicted along with Lorenzo and Lorenzo's brother Chris, a Murder Inc. executive. After being granted a separate trial, the brothers were acquitted in 2005 of money-laundering charges.

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