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Report: Feds trying to build racketeering case against rap label

December 29, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Federal investigators are trying to build a racketeering case against Death Row Records by looking for links to gangs, drug traffickers and organized crime, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The investigation of the rap label includes phone taps and work by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and federal drug investigators, the Times reported, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

Justice Department officials have refused to confirm or deny whether the company is under scrutiny.

Death Row has had $300 million in sales since it was founded in 1992.

One of its stars, Tupac Shakur, was shot to death in September in Las Vegas. Death Row founder and owner Marion ``Suge″ Knight was slightly wounded in the still-unsolved attack.

Knight, 31, has eight convictions, mainly for assault and weapons charges. His probation in a 1992 assault case has been revoked for his role in a brawl hours before Shakur was shot; he could be sentenced to prison in February.

Knight, who has been jailed since October, also is accused of violating probation in a 1994 federal firearms trafficking case by smoking marijuana.

Knight denied allegations that Death Row may have links to the Bloods street gang and to East Coast mob associates.

``Anybody who wants to follow us around is welcome to come check it out,″ he said. ``If you don’t like rap or R&B music, though, you better bring some ear plugs to the studio. Because that’s where you’re going to find us ... making the hit records that generate all the money.″

He said the government probe was racially motivated.

``This is the most outrageous story I have ever heard,″ Knight said. ``A black brother from Compton creates a company that helps people in the ghetto, so what does the government do? They try to bring him down.″

According to the Times, federal investigators also are examining:

_ whether members of the Bloods committed assaults and other crimes while on Death Row’s payroll.

_ whether Death Row was launched with drug money or other illegal funds. Knight said corporations were the source.

_ Knight’s association with convicted drug kingpins Michael Harris and Ricardo Crockett, both of whom are now in prison. Knight said he knew the men, but did not take money from them to launch his company.

_ Knight’s investment in a now-defunct Las Vegas nightspot called Club 662 for links to organized crime.

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