Rap moguls Irving and Christopher Lorenzo, also known as Irv and Chris Gotti, appeared in U.S. federal court Wednesday, facing charges of laundering more than $1 million US in drug profits.
The two defendants head the rap label formerly known as Murder Inc. Their courtroom supporters included rapper Ja Rule and R&B singer Ashanti, two of the best known artists on their label.
Officials have accused Irving Lorenzo and his brother Christopher Lorenzo of laundering drug profits for longtime friend and convicted dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who they then named an honourary label executive.
*FROM JAN. 26, 2005:
Rap executive Irv Gotti
charged with money
Prosecutors allege that the brothers and record label employees accepted large sums of drug cash, which was then used to finance a straight-to-video film called Crime Partners and an accompanying soundtrack.
In addition to Ja Rule and Ashanti, Irving Lorenzo has produced music for rap stars Jay Z and DMX, as well as singer Jennifer Lopez.
In opening statements Wednesday, lawyers defending the Lorenzo brothers denied their clients conspired with McGriff, who in a separate trial, is accused of drug trafficking across the northeastern U.S.
Defence lawyers said that the brothers simply associated with McGriff, whose reputation helped improve the record label's image and give the company street credibility.
The Lorenzo brothers, who chose their "Gotti" nicknames after the notorious crime family, renamed their label The Inc. in 2004.
A former street gang leader, McGriff has already served eight years in prison for dealing drugs in New York. Prosecutors have charged that, after his release, he further expanded his empire into neighbouring states. McGriff is now serving a prison sentence on separate charges.