NEW YORK – A rap mogul known for his gangster persona and for producing chart-topping acts under the Murder Inc. label was acquitted Friday of federal charges alleging he laundered drug money for a notorious crack kingpin.
Irving Lorenzo and his brother Christopher were found not guilty of money laundering at a trial closely followed by some of the music industry's biggest stars.
Supporters, among them hip-hop and R&B stars Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, Ja Rule and Ashanti, erupted in cheers as the jury's decision was announced, and a few jurors asked to meet with the brothers to hug and congratulate them.
"We did it! We did it!" Irving Lorenzo shouted as his lawyers carried him out of the courthouse.
He threw his arms around juror Gloria Menzies, who called the brothers "my boys" and invited Lorenzo to attend church with her.
"They had nothing to pin on these two guys," Menzies said. "It was so weak."
Beaming, Lorenzo, who goes by the name Irv Gotti, accepted her invitation and said the trial had brought him closer to God. He also promised that his legal troubles were behind him for good.
"I'm never going to get into any other trouble, no jaywalking, nothing," he told reporters.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Haran said he would respect the jury's verdict.
The brothers could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Carolyn Pokorny told jurors that the Lorenzos struck an illicit deal in the late 1990s with Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who she described as "one of the biggest, baddest, most dangerous drug lords in New York City."
The defense countered that the brothers were victims of guilt by association.
"There's nothing illegal about knowing a criminal, about socializing with a criminal, even doing business with a criminal, unless you commit a crime," said defense attorney Gerald Shargel. "Irv and Chris Lorenzo committed no crime."
McGriff allegedly funneled more than $1 million in drug money, much of it from Baltimore, through Murder Inc. in return for serving as the Lorenzos' protector and enforcer. A government witness who once worked at the label testified that he saw a "huge amount" of money delivered in shopping bags and a shoe box in 2000.
Prosecutors said Murder Inc. cut tens of thousands of dollars in checks for sham corporations controlled by McGriff, including a movie company that produced a straight-to-video film called "Crime Partners 2000." The label also covered his expenses as he traveled around the country masquerading as an entertainment executive, Pokorny said.
The defense portrayed Irving Lorenzo as a legitimate businessman who went from rags to riches by taking the Gotti name — an ode to the late mob boss — as a sales ploy and teaming with Def Jam, a subsidiary of Universal Music, to start Murder Inc. He invested in McGriff's movie because he was an old friend from their Queens neighborhood, Shargel said.
"Even if Supreme McGriff was the biggest drug dealer in the world, and even if 'Crime Partners' was the worst film in the history of American entertainment, there is nothing illegal about giving backing to a movie," he said.
Murder Inc. changed its name to The Inc. last year after executives said the label's image was hurt by the case.