The Prison Saga of Ceschi
Hip-hop artist, multi-instrumentalist and indie label Fake Four co-founder Ceschi (real name Julio Ramos) was to serve an 18 month prison sentence after police discovered Christmas presents stuffed with 100 pounds. of marijuana in a vehicle on his property. That was the soundbite that echoed nationwide from pundit to pundit in the days following his December 9th, 2010 arrest, with the 24 hour news cycle unofficially crowning it the feel good bust of the holiday season. But, like so many here-today gone-today headlines, for most, the story stopped there. In the three years since the incident, Ceschi's let Fake Four's friends and fans stay abreast of how he's been processed by the legal system and the media, and in return, supporters have come out in droves to keep Fake Four afloat.
Co-founded with his brother David Ramos in 2008 at a time when indie labels were dying left and right and majors weren't sure what to do with new artists, Fake Four Inc. started as a means to be in full control and distribute their own projects. As the indie infrastructure surrounding their contemporaries became thinner, the Ramos brothers began opening Fake Four further to release projects from their friends. Five years later, the label's been home to projects from indie rap favorites such as Open Mike Eagle, Astronautalis, and Busdriver.
It was the increasingly more elusive story of an independent label showing signs of growth and finding a fanbase that took an unfortunate turn that early December morning. According to David, he and his brother were at their grandparents' home with their mother and grandfather when Ceschi's phone kept ringing. The caller was a "friend of a friend" who said he was in town and was in dire need of "taking a piss." After some insistence, Ceschi invited the caller to come to the house to use the bathroom. While leaving the home, this person looked back and said "I got a present for you" and left it on the lawn. While the package was not so much as touched, allegedly 15 minutes later the home was surrounded by cops who invaded the home and forced the Ramos family into the kitchen.
David explained to us that it's his understanding that at one point there was a phone call between Ceschi and this someone in a coded language for an unofficial agreement of three to five pounds of marijuana, but nothing was expected to transpire at their grandparents' home. What he believes happened was this driver was pulled over for speeding in Chicago (according to police, for going 67 miles per hour in a 65 zone) and when it was discovered what he was carrying, rather than surrender the 25 or so names in his GPS that he was supposed to deliver to, pinned it all on Ceschi. Instead of 20 busts in different cities, the police got to make a single bust of over 100 pounds.
While no formal deals were made, the original understanding was for Ceschi to be the middleman for the three to five pound shipment. David went on to tell us things only got worse from there as the family were handcuffed and had guns drawn on them while Ceschi was repeatedly refused access to speak to a lawyer. After an hour, the police pointed out a reporter who had been at the scene since the bust began, telling Ceschi if he doesn't sign a confession, his entire family was going to be arrested and it was going to be all over the media, including his 98-year-old Grandfather on the cover of the New Haven Register. At that point, not wanting to put his family through this especially a mere two months after losing their grandmother, Ceschi told the police "tell me what you want me to say," signed the confession and was taken away. Soon the story of the "Pot Santa" went nationwide and the cover of the New Haven Register was Ceschi's for two days. The reporter in question would go on to become the chief spokesperson for a neighboring police department.
This confession remains the only piece of evidence against Ceschi. While he did have legal council tell him that there was an 80-90% chance he could be found not guilty, that 10% would have meant he would face the maximum of nine years behind bars. It's often speculated such potential longterm lock-ups are why the majority of drug cases end in plea bargains, which is why Ceschi went from an initial bargain of four years to 18 months.
Despite Ceschi's incarceration, Fake Four's stayed afloat and on time with their releases. An Indie-a-Go-Go page was launched for fans to donate money to keep the label's day-to-day operations going. With 100% of the money raised going strictly to the label (David has confirmed that none of it's to benefit Ceschi's legal situation as those bills have long since been paid), the goal was met within 24 hours and has since increased eight-fold. While there were some worthwhile incentives including a personal freestyle from Astronautalis as well as anyone donating $100 getting the label's entire discography, the wave of people paying to keep the label they love alive at a time when people seem particularly hesitant to spend money on music is quite a sight to behold. During Ceschi's 18 weeks of incarceration, mostly spent in his permanent facility in Niantic, Fake Four Marched along with releases from Blue Sky Black Death and Louis Logic. David described it as the one thing that's keeping his brother's spirit and work outside of those prison walls.
But just as the initial bust three years ago was an unexpected Christmas surprise, this week saw Ceschi supporters reading a just as shocking, albeit more welcome, bit of news. The morning of December 27th, Ceschi posted on Facebook that he is now home on house arrest. While it's unclear how long he will still be on parole, Ceschi did reflect openly on the impact the time in prison and the current transition out of it has had on his life:
"We're pretty confident that the noise everyone made helped put me on the fast track for release. It was even hard for me to believe but the public nature of my case had every C.O. in prison pointing and talking about me, they seemed utterly annoyed by the amount of mail and books and visits and overall attention I was getting - and that really helped push me out into the program faster. Now I'm just going to be checking in with parole and family reentry, going through a series of assessments with counselors, drug testing and will probably have to go to meetings for a while. To be completely open and honest with you all, this readjustment period is strange for me, filled with bizarre anxieties, heightened sensitivity and fears that never affected me before. In a way it's even hard for me to write this to all of you at this moment. Although prison had its tough, boring, depressing and frustrating moments, it also taught me a lot about what was important to me. It taught me to have more self control and brought about some positive routines in my life."
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