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Iconic rapper goes to trial in case bridging Obama, Trump terms

Prakazrel "Pras" Michel won Grammy Awards as one-third of the Fugees. Now he's at the center of a star-studded federal money laundering trial.


Jury selection in the criminal conspiracy trial involving Grammy Award-winning artist Pras, one-third of the iconic group the Fugees, began Monday — and the case is too odd for us to ignore. 

Plus, it has ties to a story we’ve covered previously here on The ReidOut Blog. 

To fill you in: Prakazrel Michel (the artist’s real name) was indicted in 2019 on federal charges in connection with two schemes that authorities say bridged the terms of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. He could receive up to 22 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators say Michel and others, including former Republican National Committee fundraiser Elliot Broidy, conspired over several years to illegally funnel money to officials with ties to the Obama and Trump administrations in hopes of getting federal investigators to drop a fraud investigation into a Malaysian business mogul named Jho Low.

Low, now an international fugitive, is alleged to have embezzled billions of dollars from a Malaysian development fund, money that allegedly was used in part for international bribes (and, in part, to fund the Oscar-nominated film “The Wolf of Wall Street”). Investigators say Michel and Low attempted to use the money to try to pressure the Trump administration to send a right-wing Chinese dissident named Guo Wengui from his exile in the U.S. to China, where he’s wanted on criminal charges. 

You may remember Guo, a major financier for right-wing causes in the U.S., from a recent post of mine about the DOJ’s filing of federal money laundering charges against him. 

As CNN noted, several people have already pleaded guilty in the case:

Several people tied to the alleged plot have pleaded guilty to federal charges, including former Justice Department employee George Higginbotham, Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and Broidy’s business associate Nickie Lum Davis. Former President Donald Trump pardoned Broidy just before leaving office in January 2021.

Michel, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations against him, and he laid out his defense in a sprawling Rolling Stone feature story earlier this month. 

Nonetheless, this is going to be an interesting case to watch in the coming months, as it could reveal undisclosed details about international efforts to influence U.S. politics and culture more broadly. 

Last year, Michel’s attorney released a star-studded list of potential witnesses that includes “Wolf of Wall Street” star Leonardo DiCaprio, disgraced hotelier Steve Wynn and several former government officials. (It’s unclear what they could or would testify.)

On March 6, a federal judge agreed to quash requests for testimony from some of the officials on that list: Obama, Trump and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. 

Stay tuned!