Legendary kingpin with links to rap world goes on trial

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NEW YORK (AP) – A legendary druglord with ties to the hip-hop industry was back on trial on Tuesday, charged in a federal death penalty case with paying $50,000 to have two rivals gunned down in 2001.

The case against Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff “is about a man with the power and the will to get people murdered,” prosecutor Jason Jones told jurors in opening statements in Brooklyn.

In the 1980s, McGriff founded the Supreme Team, a notoriously profitable and ruthless drug crew that became legend on the same Queens streets that later produced rap stars like Ja Rule and 50 Cent. He could face the death penalty if convicted of murder conspiracy, drug dealing and other charges.

Defense attorney David Ruhnke claimed that after his client served several years for an earlier drug conviction, he 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.

“This was an effort to make money legitimately, to change the direction of his life,” Ruhnke said in his opening argument, with McGriff at the defense table in a suit and tie.

But authorities allege that behind the scenes, McGriff resumed his drug dealing operations in New York and Baltimore, and used Murder Inc. to launder more than $1 million in proceeds. The bloodshed also returned: When a little-known rapper named E-Money Bags shot and killed one of McGriff’s friends in a dispute in 1999, the defendant allegedly hired a Harlem hit team two years later to kill the rapper and an associate he feared might retaliate.

“He wanted those men erased to settle an old score” and to show “Supreme was not to be crossed,” the prosecutor said.

Ruhnke said both victims were known thugs who were armed at the times of their deaths. He also argued that the government had built its case on the false testimony of admitted criminals hoping to see their prison time reduced.

McGriff, 46, 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.

Before that trial, a judge rejected prosecutors’ attempt to introduce evidence that McGriff, upset over some of 50 Cent’s lyrics, ordered his shooting in 2000. The best-selling rapper was hit nine times.

At the Supreme Team’s peak, McGriff and his nephew, Gerald “Prince” Miller, employed scores of crack dealers in and around a Queens housing project and took in $200,000 a day, authorities said.

The team used rooftop sentinels with two-way radios to thwart police. It inflicted violence against rivals and traitors, resulting in at least eight murders in 1987 alone, authorities said.

“Yo, when you hear talk of the south side, you hear talk of the team,” rapper 50 Cent said in one ode to the crew. “See (people) feared Prince and respected ‘Preme.”

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