New York criminal
defense attorney Robert Simels is a legend in legal circles for having represented
everyone from Southeast Queens drug kingpin Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols to mobster
Henry Hill, the real-life mobster who was the inspiration for Goodfellas.
he was also the attorney for Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and he spoke exclusively
with AllHipHop.com about the government’s case against Murder Inc. Like Raekwon
and Ghost, AllHipHop delves into criminology.
AllHipHop.com: Can you tell me why you’re no longer representing Supreme?
Robert Simels: I can’t comment on that. There are a variety of factors.
AllHipHop.com: Are you still in touch with him? What are his spirits like?
Robert Simels: We’re in touch, yes. He’s not doing too badly. It’s hard, obviously,
when you think you’re innocent, to be sitting in jail. But he feels he’ll have
his day in court.
AllHipHop.com: I’m wondering what you think of the recent release of the pager
transcripts between Supreme and Irv and Chris?
Robert Simels: It’s much ado about nothing. When you read the conversations
in their entirety, all that’s being conveyed by Mr. McGriff, is that he wants
to make sure a proper investigation is conducted and that there are sufficient
funds for his defense. But when you read the sections that the government released,
it seems much more sensational.
AllHipHop.com: I’m glad you mentioned Supreme’s funds because his attorney just
filed a document claiming that he is indigent and needs a court appointed attorney.
Robert Simels: I heard about that. It will be interesting to see if the government
opposes that position.
AllHipHop.com: Why would they oppose that claim?
Robert Simels: Because the concept of the current prosecution is that Mr. McGriff
has vast assets at his disposal which he was able to launder. I guess the government
could claim that he spent all his money, but that seems like a stretch.
AllHipHop.com: Let’s talk about the government’s case against Supreme and Murder
Inc. It seems like the government started out with the idea that they had a
vast drug trafficking conspiracy between Murder Inc. and Supreme, but ended
up with a narrow money laundering case against the label
Robert Simels: Generally speaking, the government tends to look at the larger
picture at the beginning of a case, and then narrows down to something much
smaller. You’re seeing that happen in Washington right now [with the indictment
of Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby on obstruction of justice charges
related to the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame]. The initial allegations in
the Murder Inc. search-warrant in 2003, spoke of a much larger claim-but they
ultimately narrowed the case down to a much different picture. They started
out saying that Mr. McGriff was the funding agent for Murder Inc., and now they’re
saying that he laundered some money through a movie [Crime Partners].
AllHipHop.com: But in a recent filing the government seemed to stand by its
claim that Supreme funded Murder Inc
Robert Simels: That position is at odds with the forensic evidence. Murder Inc.
undertook an extensive forensic audit of their financial records, which took
over two years and that is not what they found.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of claims that seem hard to justify, it’s difficult
for me to understand how the government can make claims-that Irv and Chris put
50 Cent under surveillance and that Supreme had 50 shot in 2000-yet not actually
charge these individuals with crimes related to those allegations.
Robert Simels: The government does this quite frequently. The rules of the grand
jury stipulate that the government can investigate all rumor and innuendo to
see if someone has committed a crime. If the rumors do not prove to be true,
and the person is not charged, then the government’s stance is, “Well, if you
didn’t get charged then you ought to feel happy.” Obviously, the persons besmirched
by such allegations do not feel that way.
AllHipHop.com: Is there any legal recourse for Irv and Chris to rectify the
record when it comes to these allegations?
Robert Simels: It’s hard. You have to prove that the government made the claims
maliciously and with malevolence. That’s a very high standard to prove for a
public official. And once a grand jury returns an indictment [as they did in
the Murder Inc. case], it’s almost impossible to sue a prosecutor. The government’s
claim is that the grand jury confirmed the prosecutor’s intentions.
AllHipHop.com: Yet in a recent filing with the US Attorney’s office Irv and
Chris’ attorneys argued that the judge should throw out all evidence related
to the search of Murder Inc’s offices because the search was based on incorrect
information in the original search warrant affidavit.
Robert Simels: Well, I’m sure the government’s take will be that the general
overview of what was in the affidavit was believed to be true. They might admit
that mistakes were made but they’re going to argue that those mistakes shouldn’t
matter because they acted in good faith.
AllHipHop.com: If you were acting as Irv and Chris’ attorney, would you make
a big point of bringing the government’s mistakes to the jury’s attention?
Robert Simels: I’d never second-guess strategy by Gerald Shargel and Gerald
Lefcourt-they’re great attorneys. But this is certainly something that has been
on mind since the beginning of the investigation: how many times government
made statements that were clearly erroneous, and how we could use those statements
AllHipHop.com: Pulling back a little bit: the government claims that the Murder
Inc. case has never been about Hip-Hop or the Hip-Hop industry. What’s your
Robert Simels: That would not be my view. It’s always been about the Hip-Hop
industry. In this particular case, prosecutors talked a lot about the language
of Rap recordings, or they would take an interview where Irv Lorenzo said how
much he cared for Mr. McGriff, and use that as evidence that he used Mr. McGriff’s
reputation as ‘muscle’ in the music industry.
AllHipHop.com: Could the government introduce Hip-Hop lyrics as evidence in
Robert Simels: I could envision a circumstance where that would be relevant.
Certainly, the number of times where Mr. McGriff is referenced in songs is worth
knowing. So, the answer is: possibly.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve represented Supreme, Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols and Thomas
“Tony Montana” Mickens. Why do you think they’ve turned into such a major reference
point for rappers?
Robert Simels: During the 1980s, these men made a historic impact on their neighborhoods.
When I say ‘historic,’ by the way, I don’t mean good. But it was historic nonetheless,
and now they have become mythologized. So now rappers use these names from the
1980s to advance their own careers. Some have criticized this, but I’m sure
if you asked Mr. Jackson [50 Cent] he’d probably say that he’s making 50 million
a year this way, so it doesn’t matter.
AllHipHop.com: I’m glad you brought up 50. There’s been so much speculation
about his possible role as an informant in the Murder Inc. case. What’s your
Robert Simels: It’s hard to say. But looking at documents, there are some documents
where the government does seem to be relying on his lyrics. And when the feds
interviewed him he said, “Read my lyrics.” So, was he a source? I don’t know.
His lyrics could have just been used by a misguided IRS agent.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think 50’s constant referencing of Supreme in his songs
helped put Supreme back on law enforcement’s radar after he was released from
prison in the mid-1990s? Or do you think the government never took their eyes
of off him?
Robert Simels: I think one driving factor behind this case is that the prosecution
and various law enforcement agencies were very unsatisfied with the sentence
I negotiated for Supreme in the late 1980s [Supreme received 12 years in prison].
Sadly, I think that in the end, Mr. McGriff would have been better off serving
a longer sentence; maybe he wouldn’t have been subjected to all this.
AllHipHop.com: Will Hip-Hop execs take a much more cautious approach in working
with former street guys if a guilty verdict is delivered in the Murder Inc.
Robert Simels: That’s way too speculative a question. I’m hopeful that Irv and
Chris will be acquitted. I don’t know why anybody would reject someone just
because of their background. Everyone is entitled to make that jump to a legitimate