Murder Inc. still working

It will take more than a federal indictment against its chief executive Irv Gotti to sideline The Inc.

The label, a joint venture between Gotti and Def Jam Recordings, currently has three singles in the Top 40 -- Ashanti's "Only U" and Ja Rule's "New York" and "Wonderful," which features Ashanti and R. Kelly -- and will launch its first major tour featuring its multiplatinum stars later this year.

A company spokesman said the indictment will not affect the label's day-to-day operations. However, sources said that if Gotti is convicted and sentenced to prison, he would no longer be able to fulfill the terms of his employment contract and Def Jam would then have the option to buy Gotti's half of The Inc. and take over the label, which has sold more than 20 million albums since opening as Murder Inc. in 1997.

Universal Music Group, parent company to Island Def Jam and The Inc., declined comment on the indictment yesterday, saying in a statement, "Neither UMG, IDJ nor its venture MI Records LLC [now known as The Inc.] are named as defendants in the indictment, therefore none will have a comment at this time."

According to the federal indictment unsealed yesterday, prosecutors allege that Gotti used his privately held labels, IG Records and Murder Records, which do not have any major acts signed to them, to launder drug profits generated by his childhood friend Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff's network of drug dealers known as the "Supreme Team." Gotti has denied any wrongdoing and has previously told Newsday that he is being prosecuted "for having friends."

Though the federal investigation has dogged the label for years, it hasn't hurt The Inc.'s sales. Both Ashanti and Ja Rule released new albums last year that debuted in the Top 10 and both have been broadening their careers outside of The Inc., with Ashanti acting in the recently No. 1 movie "Coach Carter" and Ja Rule co-starring with Ethan Hawke in the film "Assault on Precinct 13."

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