The Inc.-aka- Murder Inc; one of New York's biggest and most profitable record labels is being rocked by a now-escalating federal probe into drugs, murder and money laundering in the rap industry.
At the center of the investigation are two men who came out of the streets of southeastern Queens.
Kenneth (Supreme) McGriff, a drug baron who helped fuel the deadly crack epidemic of the 1980s, was a king of the streets who became a model for gangsta rappers.
Irving (Irv Gotti) Lorenzo founded the Murder Inc. record label, promoting and producing music that parlayed the thug life into a multimillion-dollar business that set trends in popular culture for youth across America.
Now the powerful label that gave the two fortune and infamy is being chipped away by the investigation, and indictments are looming for them, sources say.
Prosecutors say McGriff funneled drug money through Murder Inc. At least one informer has told the feds that McGriff is the true owner of the record label.
In the past month, the four-year probe gained momentum as authorities indicted four people, working their way up both sides of the case.
A Queens couple was charged with a killing that law enforcement sources say was ordered by McGriff, and an accountant and a business manager who worked for Lorenzo's label were accused of white-collar crimes involving $1 million in alleged drug trafficking cash.
At the same time, Murder Inc., which Lorenzo since has renamed to the less sinister-sounding The Inc., saw its top acts, Ja Rule and Ashanti, continue a string of hits.
Ja Rule's "R.U.L.E." debuted at No. 7 earlier this month, fueled by the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Wonderful," featuring R. Kelly and Ashanti. It marked Ja Rule's eighth top 10 hit and Ashanti's 10th.
In the acknowledgments on the album, Ja Rule refers to McGriff by his street name: "'Preme, I'm sittin' under the tree and that apple's about to fall in my lap. ... Hold ya head. ... We'll see U soon."
"I don't know what's coming, but I do know that money my client used to start his business was legitimate," said lawyer Gerald Lefcourt, who represents Lorenzo.
McGriff's attorney, the usually responsive Robert Simels, did not return numerous calls. But in the past, he has said his client had only limited, legitimate involvement with Murder Inc. and that authorities are targeting McGriff because of his notoriety.
The case began with an ex-con's alleged renewal of his criminal career and reached to the top of the music industry. The Inc. has sold more than 14 million CDs. It is a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, the largest music company in the world.
The investigation is being spearheaded by the Brooklyn federal prosecutor and includes agents from the Internal Revenue Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI, and city cops.
So far, the indictments mirror the fierce, drug-fueled aspect of gangsta rap, as well as the lucrative corporate side.
Two weeks ago, McGriff associates Dennis (Divine) Crosby, 38, and Nicole Brown, 42, were indicted in the slaying of Eric Smith, a rapper known as E-Moneybags, who was shot dead in July 2001 in Queens Village. The triggermen fired some three dozen shots into Smith's Lincoln Navigator.
Crosby and Brown allegedly videotaped Smith before the killing, which sources say was in retaliati
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