Gorilla Convict writer Soul Man federal prison register #18205-083, is in the 12th year of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for dealing LSD. He got to know alleged New York drug kingpin Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff at FCI Gilmer, a medium-to-high security federal prison in the foothills of West Virginia in 2004.
”To finally meet the man, 50 Cent rapped about and who was considered a street legend was inspiring.” recalls Soul Man “We talked a lot about book, movie, and writing projects and the entertainment world in general — all legal ventures. I was always telling him that he needed to tell his story, because for real, Supreme is one of the classiest dudes I have ever met. But with all the allegations surrounding himself and Murder Inc. he wasn’t willing to do an interview, despite getting letters every week from newspapers, magazines and book publishers that were interested in his story. When the Murder Inc. indictments came out, and before they took him back to court, he came and told me that I could do a story on him, but he didn’t want it to be in his words. He wanted it to be in the words of his peers. He wanted his fellow convicts to tell his story, so that is how I came up with this piece. What the feds are doing to Supreme is nothing new. They do it to people from the hood all the time. The prisons are filled with Black men, young and old, and they are all serving decades of their lives. More times than not, the punishment does not fit the crime. To an insider like me, it seems the feds manufacture these big conspiracies and turn things into what they are not in the name of justice. But it’s not justice; it’s a travesty. And what they are trying to do to Supreme is a mockery of justice. For real, the man is like a gangsta philosopher. He is eloquent, deep thinking, and kind, not full of himself like most people who have a measure of fame or notoriety. Just check out how those who actually know him describe him. ”
Rap and crack were both born 20 years ago, and more than a few rappers boast on their records about starting their labels with drug money, and with lyrics reeling out like taped testimony, it’s no wonder the feds have taken notice. Hip-hop performers have long argued that they’ve been unfairly targeted by police and now it seems rappers are viewed as the new mafia by the feds. Death Row was the first label targeted in the mid-90s and then Y2K saw the feds investigating claims that Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff bankrolled Murder Inc. In his day Supreme was a king of the streets who held court in Queens. He’s spent the years since the 80’s split between doing various bids and returning to his hometown streets in South Jamaica, Queens.
The New York City street legend has been at the epicenter of the swirling allegations surrounding Murder Inc. since their 1997 debut, and in January 2005, Supreme, rap mogul Irv Gotti and seven others were federally indicted on charges ranging from money laundering to racketeering to murder. If convicted. Supreme faces the death penalty. But charges of Murder Inc. being a criminal organization seem more gangsta-rap fantasy than reality. To comprehend the totality of this case, it’s important to understand the life of Supreme, now 44 years old and being held at MDC-Brooklyn.
“The brother Supreme grew up in the ’60s and “70s, when guys in the life had a semblance of principles.” says Terry Trice, a close friend of Supreme’s and a D.C. convict who has done 30 years. “He stays true to his word as a man.” Supreme grew up in Southeastern Queens, and Terry says. “His whole family is square. All his brothers and sisters are professional people in their own lives.”
“He lived right across the street from the Baisley Projects.” says Tuck, a former Supreme Team member who has been incarcerated since 1990. ‘”His pops was ex-military, a marine or something. Strict disciplinarian. Preme grew up on Foch Blvd. and the Guy Brewer intersection in South Jamaica, Queens.” An area that spawned some of the biggest names in the city’s drug lore.
“What probably influenced him getting into the life was becoming a five percenter.” Terry says. “With a lot of them coming out of prison, it had to influence his decisions.” And his whole crew was also five percenters. “Supreme is his given name. He’s been in that since he was eight or ten,” Terry says. Tuck adds, “He doesn’t drink, smoke, or eat red meat, in accordance to his beliefs.”
In Queens, the conflicting streets of private homes and grim city housing projects gave birth to another factor that proved pivotal in the young Supreme’s life—the Seven Crowns. According to legend, Seven Crowns was an early-70s street gang that started out selling marijuana and then graduated to heroin and cocaine. In 1979, the gang split up, dividing up their turf into several territories and launching the careers of some of New York’s largest urban drug dealers– including Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols. Howard “Pappy” Mason, Tommy “Tony Montana” Mickens, the Corley brothers, and Supreme. Supreme’s notorious beginnings have hung over his head, both enhancing his infamy and leading to its current predicament. Tuck, who also grew up in Queens, breaks it clown. “Pappy Mason was with Fat Cat. Pappy’s crew was the Bebos. Cat had 150th Street. Wall Corley had Forty Projects and Supreme had Baisley projects.” The 1988 cop killing of rookie officer Edward Byrne brought the Seven Crowns alumni unwanted attention. Pappy Mason and four others were quickly convicted and sentenced to life for the murder, but, in the eyes of law enforcement. Supreme and the other Queens drug dealers have always been associated with this tragic event. Besides Supreme’s had his own tangles with the law.
“In 1985, Preme had a state case.” says Tuck. “He got arrested in a house with drugs. He was sentenced to nine years to life, but he only served 22 months, because an appeals court threw out the conviction, but then the feds got him in ’87. He copped out to 12 years. No co-defendants. The feds just wanted him.”
Supreme had been charged with running a Continual Criminal Enterprise, and as he sat in federal prison, his crew ran wild under his nephew. Gerald “Prince” Miller, who is now doing seven life sentences in federal prison. “Supreme was the originator of the team.” Tuck says. “Who doesn’t know that? But I was down with Prince and we were getting money.”
“When you look at New Jack City, you know who that movie was about,” Tuck says confidently. Even though Supreme had begun serving his time and more or less left the game, the CCE charge and kingpin status conferred by the feds immortalized him in the eyes of Queens’ urban youth.
In early 1993, while Supreme was paroled, his crew was going on trial. Tuck remembers the trial, in which he was a defendant, “Preme was released from his federal sentence around February ’93, so he was home when our trial began. Our trial lasted exactly two months. During the testimony of one of the defense witnesses, Preme was sitting in the audience with a dude I grew up with. While the prosecutor was cross-examining the witness, she shocked the whole courtroom by turning around and pointing to Preme and saying, ‘Isn’t he the founder and leader of Supreme Team?’ Of course, the witness denied knowing anything about him being the leader of anything.”
Robert Smiles, Supreme’s former lawyer, has said that regardless of what his client may have started, he saw the light after spending time in jail. Terry concurs, saying, “when he seen so many thousands of young guys that grew up similar to him that were never getting out, he decided to do legitimate stuff.” But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. “He was going back and forth on violations,” Tuck says. “Out in ’93, back in ’95. Got out and was back in ’97.”
“He did his time for the CCE,” says DJ, a B-More native who spent a year as Supreme’s cellie. “He came home and his whole crew was dead or doing big numbers, but the feds still wanted him off the street, like he was a threat to society.” To the feds, Supreme was public enemy #1, but to hip-hop artists, the name mattered.
“A lot of dudes getting legitimate money want to touch gangsterism, but when it comes time to help somebody realize their dreams, they back off,” Terry says. “Irv Gotti didn’t. He tried to help somebody who was through with the life. Supreme said Irv was basically a very good friend. A dude that was willing to give him a chance.”
With Gotti’s backing, Supreme formed Picture Perfect Films and put out Crime Partners, a DVD adaptation of the Donald Goines novel that starred Snoop Dogg, Ja Rule, and Ice-T. He also acquired the film rights to four other Goines’ novels, including Black Girls Lost. “He knew, for the most part that it ain’t a black or white thing,” Terry says. “It’s a rich or poor thing.
“The first thing the feds said is that it’s drug money,” adds DJ. “Everything that he did when he came back to the streets was legal, but still the feds say it’s drug money.”
“Success would have been insured without interference from the feds,” Terry says. Regardless, Supreme’s story took another turn. As the Fed’s latest investigation took off, a Queens kid — Curtis Jackson, who you may know as 50 Cent — put out “Ghetto Quran.” where he spit, “When you hear the talk of the Southside, you hear talk of Team/ See niggas feared Prince and they respected Preme/ For all you slow motherfuckers I’ma break it down iller/ See Preme was the business man and Prince was the killer.”
“Preme is a legend.” Tuck confirms. “He’s proven and he’s not a rat. That fact alone, in this day and time, says a lot. Stand-up men are no longer the rule. They are the exception to the rule.” The rappers 50 and Ja Rule’s status was less clear, as they continued beefing about a world that Supreme had known far better than either of them. ”The Ja Rule-50 Cent beef was partly because Supreme spoke up for Ja Rule and 50 Cent too, this as a rejection of him.” Terry says. “Supreme thinks 50 Cent is an angry young man that been venting, and his venting could be construed as un-gangsta, because real men don’t put stuff out to the public that could bring about an investigation.” Adds Terry, “Supreme looks at 50 like he’s confused. If half the things that are said about 50 are true, than he needs to send half his loot to Supreme.”
With the ongoing investigation, 50 Cent’s lyrics obviously added fuel to the fire. “That chump 50 Cent wouldn’t even be a factor in the rap game if his lyrics weren’t snitch-oriented.” Terry says. “He owes all his success to the media and his beef with Murder Inc.”
In January of 2002, FBI agent Gregory Takacs started investigating Supreme’s ties to Murder Inc. Two affidavits heightened the investigation and led to the January 2003 raid of Murder Inc., The first, prepared by IRS Special Agent Francis Mace, said, “Gotti is the public face of the label and that McGriff was the true owner of the company.” The affidavit alleged that Supreme used the label to launder drug money and linked him to a narcotic-related double homicide that occurred in Maryland in 2001. The IRS sought forfeitures from Supreme’s Picture Perfect Film Company. The second — prepared by Detective William Courtney, who was with the NYPD’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Taskforce — linked Supreme to the 2001 Queens Village revenge slaying of Eric “E-Money Bags” Smith.
Supreme was also facing a couple of gun charges, one stemming from a July 2001 traffic stop in Harlem, and another for attending a 2001 firearms training course. He was arrested in a Miami Beach Hotel in November 2002 and pled guilty in April 2003 for taking target practice at a Glen Burnie, Maryland firing range —a charge unheard of until this case. On November 4, 2004, he was sentenced for the New York City gun charge and received a five-year concurrent sentence that would have put him out in the summer of 2005.
For more than two years, law enforcement officers and agents from the NYPD. IRS, FBI, and ATF investigated Supreme, and they allege that upon his mid-90s release from prison he rebuilt his violent drug organization with several new members, since the Supreme Team were all in jail. The feds actively built a case that Supreme never left the drug game, despite evidence to the contrary. His former attorney Simels maintained that his client is the victim of wild innuendo, and that his name comes up with every unsolved crime. “In Supreme’s situation, he is a perfect target, because of his past, and because the hip-hop generation accepted him and put him on a pedestal as an example of what a gangsta should be,” Terry says of his man.
”It’s like a vendetta against Preme, what they’re doing right now.” Tuck says of the indictments. “Dudes changes over the years, but with the feds, it’s like once a drug dealer always a drug dealer. These days, being a drug dealer is worse than being a rapist.” The investigation overseen by US Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopt saw the feds work two angles to the case. First, in November 2003, they indicted Ja Rule’s manager and a Murder Inc. accountant with laundering more than one million in cash. Then, in a separate indictment, a Queens couple was charged with the E-Money Bags slaying.
“It’s like Supreme said, ‘They could have easily not been on the indictment by saying what the cops wanted them to say.'” Terry says. Supreme’s former lawyer accused the government of pushing cooperating witnesses to falsely implicate the ultimate targets of the probe, and their case hinges on the testimony of Jon “Love” Ragin, the leader of a large-scale credit card fraud ring who worked on the Crime Partners DVD with Supreme, and when he got busted in August 2003, he turned government stooge rather than face a 15-19 year sentence. About Ragin, Terry says, ”This creep, nothing he says has any validity. He started a lot of this when he went on the run and got caught in the forgery ring. The feds seized the film company due to this dude’s lies.”
When the indictment came out the government quietly backed off its claims that the seed money for Murder Inc. came from Supreme. In fact, this is the reason the investigation was initially stalled, and this allegation appears nowhere in the 37-page indictment. Concerning the murders in the indictment, Terry says, ”Supreme’s never been in that part of the game. It’s clear he’s a negotiator. To kill someone is to create a problem and a negotiator would never do this.” Terry goes on, “The governments gonna paint you however they wanna see you. If you’re not gonna lie on somebody or try to put somebody in jail or comply with the government, then they’re going after you.” And this is the position that Supreme finds himself in, but like the street legend he is, he’s ready to battle for his life in court.
“From my point of view,” says Choke, another Supreme confidant, “they trying to judge him from his past. All these articles talking about the Supreme Team, that shit was 20 years ago.” And Terry sums it all up, saying, “The whole investigation started trying to link Murder Inc.’s start-up to drug money from Supreme. Now, it’s turned into a gangsta-rap fantasy.” And that gangsta-rap fantasy could end up costing a man his life.