A convicted drug lord at the center of a high-profile probe of the rap music industry in New York and the investigation of a double homicide in Owings Mills was sentenced yesterday to 37 months in prison on a federal gun charge.
Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who has been linked by authorities to other violence -- such as the well-publicized shooting of rap star 50 Cent -- was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore for illegally possessing a handgun as a convicted felon when he took target practice at a Glen Burnie firing range.
The sentencing came amid allegations raised in court papers in New York and Baltimore that McGriff has been involved in other crimes, including the unsolved drug-related double slaying outside an Owings Mills apartment complex two years ago. McGriff's attorney called the allegations "absurd."
"I imagine they did have an impact to some degree on the judge, because they are terrible allegations," attorney Robert Simels said. "They're not proved. They're not charged. But they are terrible allegations."
The New York attorney acknowledged that items of McGriff's were found by investigators in the Owings Mills drug stash-house apartment and that McGriff "might know" the two men from the Bronx, N.Y., who were killed outside of the building Aug. 21, 2001. But he said McGriff was not connected to their deaths.
"If [prosecutors] thought they had a case putting him together with that murder, would he not have been charged?" Simels said outside the Baltimore court.
No one has been charged in the slayings of Dwayne Thomas, 31, and Karon Russell Clarrett, 28, who were found fatally shot in the complex's parking lot.
Court records filed by prosecutors describe McGriff, 42, as the "subject of a large-scale federal investigation ... centering on his involvement in multiple homicides, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, witness intimidation, firearm offenses and other federal violations."
An affidavit filed in federal court in Brooklyn by an Internal Revenue Service investigator alleged that McGriff controlled a drug route between New York and Baltimore that provided start-up funds for the hip-hop music label Murder Inc., which launched the careers of performers Ashanti and Ja Rule.
Court papers also link McGriff to the killings in Owings Mills. According to court records, investigators found his fingerprints at the apartment during a search a few days after the killings, along with large amounts of cocaine and heroin, a gun, $30,000 and a certificate from a handgun training course issued to "Lee Tuten," one of his aliases.
Simels has said his client has worked hard to make a legitimate life in the entertainment business after serving almost a decade in prison on federal drug charges. McGriff was convicted for his role as the founder of the "Supreme Team," a tightly run drug gang that largely controlled the crack cocaine trade in Queens, N.Y., in the 1980s.
Federal authorities allege that soon after leaving prison, McGriff returned to the drug business and began funneling money through the Murder Inc. record label founded by an old friend, Irving Lorenzo.
No one has been charged in the money laundering probe. Murder Inc., overseen by Universal's Island Def Jam division, has denied wrongdoing. Lorenzo, known by the nickname "Irv Gotti," has dismissed suggestions that his friendship with McGriff meant his business was illegitimate. Federal prosecutors have refused to comment on the record label investigation.
The interest by authorities in New York in McGriff was made plain yesterday by one detail: the gun case against him was handled by an assistant U.S. attorney from Brooklyn instead of an assistant prosecutor from the Baltimore office.
In court, Motz made no mention of any of the investigations as he handed down McGriff's sentence on the gun charge. The judge said that someone with McGriff's long criminal record had no business being "anywhere near a firearm" when people in Baltimore and New York "are being slaughtered every day."
"There's no reason to be at a firing range at all," he said. "And if you're there to keep your skills up, that says it -- there is no reason to keep your skills up."