Facing 10 years in prison, T.I. made his initial appearance in court on Monday (October 15) to answer to weapons charges following a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting on Saturday in which he was charged with trying to buy machine guns and silencers.
The rapper will have plenty of time to think about the charges, since U.S. Magistrate Alan Baverman denied bond and scheduled a hearing for Friday, at which he’ll decide whether there was probable cause to arrest the rapper and if T.I. will qualify for bond before a trial, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
T.I. (born Clifford Harris Jr.) arrived in court wearing a black shirt and pants, with his hands cuffed and his legs chained as he was led into the courtroom. He made eye contact with the standing-room-only crowd of friends, family members and well-wishers, a number of whom were ordered out of the small courtroom and building before the hearing began, because the the judge said they were hampering the proceedings, according to CNN. Federal prosecutors are requesting that T.I. be held without bond until his trail, which could be months away.
In addition to the guns that T.I., 27, allegedly tried to purchase through an intermediary and collect on Saturday which, given his status as a convicted felon, he is not allowed to doÃ‚Â police found a number of additional weapons at his Atlanta-area home during a search, including some in a walk-in safe that required fingerprint access, according to the affidavit provided by authorities.
Though he did not return calls for comment, T.I.’s lawyer, Dwight Thomas, told the Journal-Constitution before Monday’s appearance that “we’ll go in Monday, request bail on his behalf and vigorously defend him. … I can tell you he’s in good spirits,” the lawyer said. “He’s confident the legal system will work in his favor.” A spokesperson for T.I.’s label also declined to comment for this story.
According to the affidavit in the case, officials got wind from a federally licensed firearms dealer October 2 that someone was looking to buy a machine gun without registering it, as required by law. That person, who had reportedly worked as a bodyguard for T.I. since July, was arrested October 10 after purchasing three unregistered 9mm machine guns and two 9mm silencers from an undercover agent in the parking lot of an Atlanta-area Kmart, using $2,200 and a pistol as payment. Authorities say T.I. gave his bodyguard specific instructions about how to withdraw $12,000 from one of the rapper’s bank accounts to purchase the guns.
After the bodyguard was arrested, he agreed to cooperate with authorities and reportedly told them he was buying the guns for T.I. and that he’d previously purchased at least nine guns for the rapper since he began working for him. According to the affidavit, he told officers that T.I. had asked him to buy guns for him because a prior felony conviction barred him from doing so himself. The ATF taped a series of phone calls between the unnamed bodyguard and T.I. in which they discussed the guns, including one on October 11, when the witness called T.I. and said he had “everything for you.”
According to the affidavit, T.I. confirmed that he wanted the guns delivered Saturday. Just hours before he was slated to appear at the BET Hip Hop Awards show, he met the bodyguard in a shopping-center parking lot in a car authorities said contained three guns, including one loaded gun tucked between the driver’s seat and center console.
The bodyguard, when questioned, allegedly showed T.I. the different firing settings for the machine guns and explained how one silencer worked, to which the rapper reportedly replied, “No flash, no bang,” before asking for the “change left over” from the purchase. Just after that exchange, ATF agents moved in and arrested T.I. on charges of buying illegal machine guns.
The Journal-Constitution reported that T.I.’s longtime girlfriend, Xscape member Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, was also arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and Ecstasy, though a spokesperson for the Atlanta Police Department had not confirmed that arrest at press time. Also reportedly arrested were members of T.I.’s crew, rappers Mac Boney and Young Dro, and several bodyguards, all of whom were released without charge.
When agents searched the rapper’s home later on Saturday, they found three rifles, two pistols and a revolver, all loaded, including ones the cooperating witness said he had purchased. T.I. was formally charged with two felonies, possession of unregistered machine guns (and silencers) and possession of firearms by a convicted felon. According to the affidavit, the cooperating witness also said that in September on three separate occasions he purchased a 9mm pistol, a .500-caliber revolver and seven more firearms for T.I., using cash provided by the rapper, delivering the guns either to T.I.’s house or to an associate named “Alphaomega.”
Patrick Crosby, a spokesperson for the office of the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said that while the charges were serious, “We do a machine-gun case every couple months,” and that authorities are not treating this case any differently because of the rapper’s fame. Though there is a ban on the manufacture of new machine guns except for export or use by government agencies, it is legal in the United States for non-felons to purchase previously manufactured machine guns and silencers, according to Marc Jackson, a special agent with the ATF’s Atlanta Field Division.
The only rule is that the guns and silencers need to be registered and sold through a legally approved dealer. Jackson stressed that T.I. was never the subject of the investigation that resulted in his arrest, but that the unnamed cooperating witness was because he said he wanted to purchase the guns off the books. Under federal law, when purchasing a gun you have to sign paperwork saying, among other things, that you are not a felon and that you are the intended possessor of the guns you are buying. Jackson also denied that the arrest of T.I. was timed to coincide with the BET Hip Hop Awards show and stressed that a press release was issued announcing the arrest not because of the rapper’s fame, but because of the size of the case.
With a felony drug conviction in 1997 that landed him seven years’ probation and a jail stretch in 2004 for a probation violation on the drug conviction, as well as a deadly highway shoot-out in 2006 in Cincinnati that took the life of his best friend Philant Johnson, T.I.’s personal life has often mirrored his hard-boiled rap persona.
DJ Toomp, who has produced a number of songs for the rapper, told the Journal-Constitution that he’s often warned T.I. about running with the wrong crowd. “I was in his ear all the time,” Toomp told the paper.