September 01, 1997
Report: Inmate claims he helped start Death Row Records
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A man convicted of attempted murder who
claims to have helped started Death Row Records has emerged as a
central figure in a racketeering probe of the rap label, a
newspaper reported today.
FBI agents have interviewed Los Angeles music executives,
asking questions about Michael "Harry O" Harris and his
purported role as a Death Row financier while behind bars, the
Los Angeles Times reported.
Death Row founder Marion "Suge" Knight, who is
serving a prison sentence for a probation violation, denies the
claim by Harris. The label is under investigation for alleged
links to gangs, drugs, money laundering and violent acts.
Knight dismissed Harris as a scheming "snitch" who
is trying to lighten his prison sentence.
"I am not a rat," Harris told the Times in a prison
interview. "If I was a rat, I could have been home free 10
Harris and his wife also negotiated deals with music labels
owned by Time Warner, Polygram, Sony and Viacom. Record industry
officials refused to comment.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Harris' drug
operation was part of an international drug ring that linked Los
Angeles street gangs to a Colombian cocaine cartel.
In 1987, he was convicted of the kidnapping and attempted
murder of one of the members of his drug ring, James Lester, whom
Harris suspected of stealing money. Harris is serving 28 years in
"I'm a workaholic," Harris said. "I applied
myself. I know I did wrong in the past and I am paying my debt to
society. That, however, in no way negates the fact that I was
blessed with entrepreneurial talent."
Harris, 35, declined to discuss the racketeering probe, but
sources told the Times he has testified before the federal grand
jury - as have a number of people involved in the early days of
Harris is careful to describe his role as a
"consultant" to ventures operated by his wife, Lydia
Harris, because it is illegal to run a business while in state
Harris said Death Row began in the fall of 1991, when he
introduced his lawyer, David Kenner, to Knight, an aspiring music
entrepreneur who had access to a recording studio.
Harris asked Kenner, who was working on an appeal of his drug
conviction, to bring Knight for a visit to the Metro Detention
Center to discuss the possibility of cutting a demo tape of his
wife's singing, Harris said.
Harris says he put up $1.5 million in working capital for a
half stake in an entertainment corporation called GF
Entertainment that would include a record division called Death
Knight visited Harris at the California Correctional
Institution in Tehachapi nearly two dozen times over the next 18
months, state records show.
But by November, Harris says, he learned that Knight and Andre
"Dr. Dre" Young had secretly cut a deal with Interscope
Records, which released Death Row's debut album and a string of
other multimillion-selling hits.
Harris says Knight and Kenner repeatedly have refused to give
him an accounting from Death Row or share any of its profits with
his wife, who he maintains deserves half of any income earned.
Knight denies that Harris financed Death Row, insisting the
label was launched with millions of dollars from deals cut with
Sony, Interscope and Time Warner.
Over the past four years, Death Row's music has been
distributed by four of the nation's six biggest record
conglomerates and generated more than $300 million in retail
Kenner said he cannot comment on his former client's
accusations, citing attorney-client privilege.