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Report: Federal grand jury convened to probe Death Row Records

July 24, 1997 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A federal grand jury has been convened to determine whether two convicted drug dealers contributed seed money to help launch the controversial rap label Death Row Records, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

Investigators and prosecutors are concentrating on the relationship between Death Row co-founder Marion ``Suge″ Knight and his attorney David Kenner and convicted drug dealers Michael ``Harry-O″ Harris and Patrick Johnson, the newspaper quoted unidentified sources as saying.

Harris, who is serving a 28-year prison sentence for cocaine dealing and attempted murder, claims he put up $1.5 million in late 1991 to underwrite the start of the Death Row label.

Investigators are also trying to find out whether Johnson was a silent partner in the business. Johnson, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Knight, ran one of the largest PCP rings in the nation in the late 1980s and laundered millions of dollars through commercial ventures in the Compton area, the newspaper said.

U.S. Justice Department officials have refused to confirm or deny the existence of a Death Row racketeering probe. The newspaper quoted sources as saying federal investigators are looking into Knight and others associated with the record label for alleged tax violations and alleged links to street gangs, drug trafficking, money laundering and violence.

Knight, 32, is serving a nine-year state prison term for violating probation on a 1992 assault. He has repeatedly denied that any money from illegal activity financed Death Row Records. He has suggested the federal probe is racially motivated.

Last month, agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Drug Enforcement Administration reviewed documents at the office of Death Row’s accountant, the newspaper said.

Last week, agents interviewed Los Angeles music executives, asking about Harris and his purported connections to Knight and Kenner, who has represented Harris, Johnson and Knight. Law enforcement sources said investigators are trying to find out whether Kenner’s involvement with Death Row extends beyond his role as attorney.

Kenner, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor, has earned a reputation as a well-prepared criminal lawyer. He has defended rappers Andre ``Dr. Dre″ Young and Calvin ``Snoop Doggy Dogg″ Broadus and other Death Row associates in cases ranging from assault to murder.

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As Death Row’s stature in the music industry increased, Kenner eventually stopped taking outside cases and became Death Row’s principal lawyer. His practice expanded into entertainment law, negotiating artist contracts and other legal agreements for the company.

Kenner, who is recovering from major heart surgery, was unavailable for comment, the newspaper said. Previously, he has denied any wrongdoing.