NEW YORK – The rapper Casanova remained in federal custody Thursday after surrendering to law enforcement in a gang-related federal racketeering case, authorities said.
The New York City rapper, whose legal name is Caswell Senior, was charged in an indictment unsealed this week against 18 members of the Untouchable Gorilla Stone Nation gang, which authorities say operated in New York City and other parts of New York state.
The gang is charged with a litany of crimes, including the killing in September of a 15-year-old boy in Poughkeepsie and defrauding programs meant for people suffering economic hardship because of the pandemic. The charges stemmed, in part, from six wiretaps involving the gang, prosecutors said.
Casanova, 34, turned himself in to the FBI late Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and firearms possession. He is not charged with killing the child.
“Members of Gorilla Stone committed terrible acts of violence, trafficked in narcotics, and even engaged in brazen fraud by exploiting benefits programs meant to provide assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said in a news release this week.
His defense attorney, James Kousouros, said Casanova had been “painted with a broad brush of conspiratorial conduct” in an indictment short on specifics.
“He expects to be exonerated," Kousouros told The Associated Press. “He denies any of the charges, to the extent we can even understand them. Here's a man who surrendered in a case for which he's looking at life in prison, which is consistent with the act of an innocent man.”
Raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Casanova is known for hits like “Don't Run," released in 2016 and, more recently, “Set Trippin.” He is currently signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label and released a first full-length album, “Behind These Scars,” last year.
The criminal charges are not the first Casanova has faced. He previously served nearly eight years in prison in New York for robbery.
Last year, Casanova was dropped from the lineup of a hip-hop festival after New York City police sent the organizers of the event a letter citing safety concerns if he and four other rappers were to take the stage, The New York Times reported. The rappers were said to be “affiliated with recent acts of violence citywide." One of them, Pop Smoke, was later fatally shot in Los Angeles.
Casanova had a long-running feud with fellow Brooklyn rapper Tekashi69, then a member of the rival Nine Trey Gansta Bloods, that resulted in a confrontation at the Barclays Center in April 2018 in which a gunshot was fired. No one was hurt in the shooting, which happened during a boxing match between Adrien Broner and Jessie Vargas, but a member of Tekashi69's gang later pleaded guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering in the shooting.
Tekashi69, whose legal name is Daniel Hernandez, fell into his own legal troubles when he was charged in a separate federal racketeering case. Like Casanova, Tekashi69 had an outlaw reputation he’d curated online but received a lenient prison sentence after cooperating in the case against the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods.