Irv Gotti demonstrating his invisibility powers
Here’s the problem with this Irv Gotti money laundering trial: it’s a tease. The prosecution keeps threatening to bring up the 2000 50 Cent shooting, the defense keeps arguing that it shouldn’t be part of the trial, and the judge keeps deciding not to decide. The trial has been going on for three days now, and it’s been interrupted every day by this one question. Today, the jury had to leave the room for nearly an hour so that prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny could question witness John Ragin about the shooting and then both sets of lawyers could argue about its relevance to the case. Ragin is a former associate of the Queens drug kingpin Kevin “Supreme” McGriff, the guy whose money Irving and Chris Lorenzo are accused of laundering. He testified that Supreme had had a few conversations with 50, a Murder Inc. rival, about talking shit on Murder Inc. on mixtape tracks. According to Ragin, 50 would tell Supreme that he’d leave Murder Inc. alone but that 50 would continue going at them anyway. Then, in May 2000, Ragin says that Supreme called him and told him to meet up at a Brooklyn garage, where Supreme said that he and several associates had found 50 outside his grandmother’s house. Ragin testified that Supreme’s friend Robert “Son” Lyons had shot 50 nine times and that Supreme had thought that he’d killed 50. Supreme had come to the garage, Ragin said, because he’d needed an alibi, so he and Ragin went shopping in Brooklyn and dumped the getaway car. Ragin also said that he’d been present for conversations about the shooting a few years later where they’d made fun of Son for not actually killing 50, and he said that Chris Lorenzo had been there for one of those conversations. Assistant US Attorney Sean Hagan claimed to have intercepted a flood of text-messages on the night of the shooting: Supreme telling a Lorenzo associate about it, Irv delighted, though Supreme and Irv never texted each other directly. Chris Lorenzo’s defense lawyer Gerald Shargel said that the shooting was irrelevant to the Lorenzos’ money laundering case and that it would affect the jury’s ruling, since many of them would be familiar with 50; Shargel compared its possible reception to that of “a plot to kill Bob Dylan.” He also noted that 50 has claimed in interviews that someone else shot him, a guy named Homicide. And then the jury came back in, and 50 was never mentioned again. Allhiphop.com reported recently that 50 may be subpoenaed to testify if the evidence surrounding his shooting is admitted, but we’re not much closer to knowing whether that will actually happen. And the judge called a two-and-a-half hour lunch break, presumably so the teams of lawyers could argue about it some more.
Pokorny questioned Ragin in front of the jury as well. Ragin is a former pimp and leader of a credit card fraud ring; he also owned an agency that rented out cars to drug dealers and served as one of three executive producers on Supreme’s movie Crime Partners. He claimed that he’d met Supreme through a prison acquaintance named Black Just and that he’d rented several cars to Supreme and helped him attain one of his aliases. He said that Supreme controlled Picture Perfect Films and Entertainment, the two companies that produced the Crime Partners movie and soundtrack, but that he wasn’t named as one of the shareholders because he didn’t want his financial contributions to be traced. However, Rasin said, Supreme had co-written the movie and paid for its production, which had cost about $400,000. The prosecution had a list of investors showing that Murder Inc. had cut two contribution checks to the movie totalling $65,000 (Ruff Ryders also contributed $50,000, and its CEO Darren Dean another $50,000). Ragin testified that the contributions hadn’t gone into the film but that they were checks for cash. He also said that he’d seen Supreme walk into the Murder Inc. offices with bags of cash but that he hadn’t seen what he did with them. Ragin claimed that Irv Gotti had donated a number of songs for the Crime Partners soundtrack; all Supreme had to pay for was mixing and mastering. Irv had then brokered a deal with Def Jam to distribute the album; Def Jam CEO Lyor Cohen had been reluctant to go into the deal, but Irving guaranteed to cover half of the $1 million that Def Jam eventually offered if the album didn’t recoup it. Finally, Ragin said that Murder Inc. had paid for a number of flights around the country for Supreme in the six months before he started serving a prison term. Ragin claimed that he’d joined Supreme on one flight, a trip to California where they stayed in a mansion owned by Murder Inc.
Ragin is a big dude, but he didn’t speak in one-syllable grunts the way first-day witness Phillip Banks did, and he didn’t get flustered in cross-examining the way Donell Nichols had on Thursday. He answered all of the questions put to him calmly and matter-of-factly. In cross-examining, Chris’s attorney Gerald Shargel tried to discredit him the same way he had with Banks and Nichols, hammering home that Nichols had been a professional thief for most of his adult life, that he’d last filed a tax return in 1992, that he’d lied to his parole officer about being gainfully employed and even manufactured fake pay stubs. Shargel claimed that Ragin didn’t become an honest person just because he’d signed an agreement to testify, and he may have a point, though Ragin will testify again soon at Supreme’s trial. He also made a big deal of the fact that Ragin had thrown a computer printer off an 11th-floor balcony when police raided his credit card fraud operation, saying it could’ve killed somebody, though Ragin said that it was five in the morning when police raided and that nobody had been walking nearby. Ragin also said in cross-examining that both he and Supreme had considered Crime Partners to be a real movie and an attempt to make a legitimate profit rather than simply a money-laundering sceme.
Ragin wasn’t the first person to testify today; he came after NYPD Detective Anthony Castiglia, who the prosecution called to the stand to discredit Shargel’s biggest claim from Thursday. After Nichols testified that he’d seen Supreme use a shoebox to deliver “probably $70,000 or more” in small denominations to the Murder Inc. offices, Shargel used fake money and a shoebox to show that the amount would never fit. Castiglia, however, showed that he’d managed to fit 7400 one-dollar bills into an Adidas basketball-shoe box, pointing out that most NYC drug dealers would be more likely to wear sneakers than the dress shoes that Shargel wore. Shargel was visibly pissed, especially after Castiglia made some veiled jokes about “small lawyer-sized shoes” in the most entertaining moment of the day. It wasn’t a 50 Cent testimony, but it would have to do.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 21, 2005