Witness: drug money delivered in plastic shopping bags

The witness recalled the drug money being delivered to the Manhattan headquarters of Murder Inc. in plastic shopping bags. One time, he said, it arrived stuffed in a shoe box small bills stacked and bound in rubber bands.

"It was a huge amount of money," Donnell Nichols, who briefly worked at the successful rap music label in 2000, said Thursday at a federal trial. "There were huge stacks."

Prosecutors hoped to present Nichols, 31, as a whistleblower who could offer jurors an inside look at how the label's chief executive, Irving Lorenzo, and his brother Christopher laundered drug money. The defense countered by attacking him an unpaid, clueless flunky and chronic liar who was fired after six months.

During a lengthy cross-examination, defense attorney Gerald Shargel gave Nichols a shoe box and tens of thousands of phony dollars and challenged him to fit all of it inside. He couldn't.

"I don't get it," the witness said as some spectators in the Brooklyn courtroom burst out laughing.

The theatrics came on the second day of the racketeering trial of Irving Lorenzo, the rags-to-riches founder of Murder Inc., and his brother, the company's president.

The government alleges the label known best for its gangster guise and platinum-selling artists like Ashanti and Ja Rule also formed a secret alliance with a notorious drug kingpin named Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff.

Both Ashanti and Ja Rule came to court on Wednesday to support Irving Lorenzo, known professionally as Irv Gotti. Ja Rule, who has called the case "a war against hip hop," also returned briefly on Thursday.

Nichols testified that as the personal assistant of Christopher Lorenzo, he saw McGriff deliver cash to the label's office "three to four times." He claimed Christopher even referred to it as "dirty money."

The witness also told the jury he saw a Murder Inc. accountant cut checks for Picture Perfect, described by prosecutors as a sham movie production company set up by McGriff after he was released from prison in an earlier case. The company allegedly used laundered drug money to produce "Crime Partners 2000," a straight-to-video film starring Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T.

The Lorenzos deny ever laundering money. Their attorneys say they sometimes did favors for McGriff because he was an old friend, and because he gave them "street credibility", AP reports. P.T.

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