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Death Row Records investigated for alleged crime ties

December 30, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Federal investigators are trying to build a racketeering case against Death Row Records by probing alleged links to a street gang, drug traffickers and organized crime figures, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The rap label, whose stars include dead rapper Tupac Shakur, has been under scrutiny for months in a probe the Justice Department refuses to confirm or deny, the paper reported Sunday.

Death Row owner Marion ``Suge″ Knight, jailed since October on a probation violation, denied criminal ties and said the probe was racially motivated.

``This is the most outrageous story I have ever heard,″ Knight, 31, 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.″

Investigators believe Death Row may have been bankrolled by the notorious Bloods street gang and East Coast organized crime figures.

The investigation involves agents from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Police in Los Angeles and Las Vegas are also working on the case.

Since its founding in 1992, Death Row has been a major player in rap music, racking up $300 million in sales amid an aura of violence.

Shakur was killed in September in Las Vegas in a shooting that left Knight slightly wounded.

Knight has eight convictions, mainly for assault and weapons charges. His state probation in a 1992 assault was revoked in November for his role in a fight at a Las Vegas hotel only hours before Shakur was shot. He could receive a nine-year sentence at a February court hearing.

He also is accused of violating probation in a 1994 federal firearms trafficking case by smoking marijuana.

Federal investigators reportedly 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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