Robert Simels: A Case For Murder Inc.

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.

Until recently,

he was also the attorney for Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff and he spoke exclusively

with about the government’s case against Murder Inc. Like Raekwon

and Ghost, AllHipHop delves into criminology. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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]. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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

in court. 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. Could the government introduce Hip-Hop lyrics as evidence in

this trial?

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. 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. 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. 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. 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

life, right?

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