Murder Inc. Trial Begins

Irving “Irv Gotti” Lorenzo, head of rap label The Inc. – formerly known as Murder Inc. – faces 20 years in prison as the racketeering trial of the rap mogul and his brother, Christopher, began in a Brooklyn, N.Y., federal courthouse November 16th.

Prosecutors charge the Lorenzos with laundering money for convicted crack kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff by funneling more than $1 million into then-Murder Inc.’s coffers.

The Lorenzo brothers were accused by prosecutor Sean Haran in opening statements of using “their corporate bank accounts to clean drug money.” The money, which was described as coming into Murder Inc.’s offices in sacks and shoe boxes stuffed with $5, $10 and $20 bills, is suspected of financing the straight-to-video “Crime Partners 2000,” starring Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T.

Six people, including McGriff and the Lorenzo brothers, were indicted last January in the case.

The trial, which opened with labelmates Ja Rule and Ashanti in the audience, threatens to scandalize one of the top record labels in the business. Murder Inc. is partly owned by Def Jam / IDJMG, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. UMG severed its relationship earlier this year with The Inc., which changed its name from Murder Inc. in 2004.

“It’s a war on hip-hop,” Ja Rule said outside the Brooklyn Federal Court. “They don’t like hip-hop.”

Prosecutors point to Lorenzo’s adopted moniker as proof that the gangster connection was more than just hype for street cred.

Lawyers for the Lorenzos say authorities are basing the charges on image over reality.

“The prosecutors have been taken in by the same gangster images Murder Inc. used to sell records to 13-year-old kids,” Irving Lorenzo’s attorney Gerald Lefcourt told the Los Angeles Times. “Murder Inc. did nothing wrong.”

The brothers, who are free on $1 million bail, were charged in January in the same indictment as McGriff. But U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman agreed to grant them a separate trial after the defense argued that prosecuting them with McGriff, who faces more serious murder counts, would prejudice the jury.

In the meantime, the case has seen its share of setbacks. Two prosecution witnesses have decided not to cooperate and will likely not testify, according to the Times. Key evidence linking the Lorenzos with drug deals and assassinations was ruled inadmissable.

McGriff allegedly ordered the shooting of 50 Cent in May 2000 amid the rapper’s ongoing war of words with Ja Rule. Investigators believe 50 Cent, who survived the shooting, had angered the drug lord by writing a song about him called “Ghetto Koran.”