NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, April 18, 2015, 2:30 AM
Prosecutors can use YouTube music videos made by the leaders of a Brooklyn drug gang called Together Forever Mafia against them at their upcoming racketeering trial, a federal judge ruled Friday.
The TF Mafia videos on YouTube include titles such as “Smell Murder,” “Hustler Anthem,” “TF Mafia — My Mobb” and “Brooklyn Zoo — Boo,” according to court papers.
Judge Kiyo Matsumoto’s decision to allow the video evidence to be used against defendants Michael (Rab) Garrett and Paul Rivera is the latest in a growing body of cases nationwide in which defendants who rap about criminal conduct on video see it come back to bite them.
“The court finds that excerpts of videos depicting the defendants with firearms, cash and drugs are highly probative to the weapons-related charges, narcotics trafficking and money-laundering charges,” Matsumoto wrote in the decision.
“The defendants may offer evidence at trial . . . that the weapons, cash and drugs depicted are ‘props,’ but it is up to the jury to weigh this evidence and decide what is depicted,” she stated.
Lawyers for Garrett and Rivera had argued that the videos are merely fictionalized dramatizations, boasting and part of the gangsta rap genre.
Michael Garrett and a fellow gang leader are charged with operating a crack operation based in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
But the footage of a Jan. 18, 2012, car stop on a Pennsylvania highway in which drugs were found in Rivera’s car was certainly reality TV.
The judge will also allow excerpts of the video depicting Garrett discussing the arrests of the occupants of Rivera’s car with a lawyer, and Garrett’s girlfriend discussing with him whether any of them may be cooperating with law enforcement.
Another video titled “The RATS who lied on Paulee Vance (Rivera), The Founder of Together Forever” also deals with Garrett discussing the car stop with two witnesses who will testify at the trial, which begins next week in Brooklyn Federal Court.
“The video does not appear to have been produced for entertainment or promotional purposes,” the judge stated.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn Merkl argued in court papers that the TF Mafia tattoos, logos and lyrics about drug dealing are important enterprise evidence.
The judge wasn’t convinced about the scene in a video in which Garrett speaks directly into the camera and rants that the video is about how “n—— are supposed to do it.”
In 2014, another Brooklyn judge allowed the use at trial of YouTube videos created by Gowanus Houses drug kingpin Ronald (Ra Diggs) Herron, which similarly glorified drug dealing and violence against a hip-hop backdrop.
Herron was convicted and sentenced to three life sentences plus 105 years in prison.
Garrett, 39, and Rivera, 47, are charged with running TF Mafia from a tattoo parlor located at 361 Sutter Ave. in Brownsville.
In addition to trafficking crack and marijuana, they are also charged with sex trafficking of women — some of them were underage girls — and witness tampering.
One video that is not on YouTube, but will be played at the trial, is a surveillance tape of the Aug. 22, 2011, murder of Robert Barber outside Rivera’s tattoo parlor.