UPDATED: In the fraught final hours of Donald Trump’s presidency, he issued a raft of pardons, including ones for Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez, rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, and Death Row Records cofounder Michael “Harry O” Harris.
In an official White House statement released late Tuesday night, Desiree Perez, Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. and Bill K. Kapri were all on the clemency list. In total, Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 additional individuals, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, former Republican National Committee chairman Elliott Broidy, former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Ken Kurson, the former editor of the New York Observer.
Perez was arrested in 1994 for drug possession and in 1998 for grand larceny and possession of a firearm. In 2019, she was named CEO of Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by rapper-turned-mogul Jay-Z that’s home to such artists as Rihanna, Shakira, Alicia Keys, Megan Thee Stallion, Meek Mill and DJ Khaled among others. “Ms. Perez was involved in a conspiracy to distribute narcotics,” the White House’s statement reads, presumably referencing her arrest for intent to distribute cocaine. “Since her conviction, Ms. Perez has taken full accountability for her actions and has turned her life around. She has been gainfully employed and has been an advocate for criminal justice reform in her community.”
In a statement Wednesday morning, Perez said: “I’m grateful to have received a pardon and to have formally closed that chapter of my life in the eyes of the law. I have taken full accountability for my mistakes from 25 years ago, but I also take tremendous pride in my personal growth, perseverance and accomplishments since then. This pardon reinforces my lifelong commitment to advocate for criminal justice reform and social justice initiatives.”
Amid talk of the prices Trump was charging for pardons, some type of deal between him and Wayne, who was facing up to 10 years on a federal gun charge, seems likely: In a flagrant if questionable bid for Black votes, Trump posed for a photo op with Wayne during the closing days of the presidential campaign. Bloomberg reported on Monday that the Trump Administration was preparing pardon paperwork for Wayne.
Wayne pled guilty in federal district court in December for illegally possessing a loaded, gold-plated handgun, while traveling to Florida on a private plane in 2019. He could serve up to 10 years in jail, a decision that will be announced during a sentencing hearing on Jan. 28. The rapper previously served eight months in jail in New York, after being convicted of criminal possession of a weapon.
Also on Trump’s list is Florida rapper Black, who in 2019 was sentenced to 46 months in prison on federal weapons charges. Black (born Dieuson Octave) admitted to lying on background-check forms while buying multiple firearms. Two of the weapons were later found by police at crime scenes, including one with Black’s fingerprints and a live round in the chamber that had been used to fire at a “rival rap artist,” according to the New York Times.
Rapper Lil Yachty and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson publicly lobbied Trump to pardon Black, who wrote in a now-deleted tweet that he would donate $1 million to charity if Trump released him.
One of the first pardons to become public Tuesday was Death Row Records cofounder Michael “Harry O” Harris, who has been in prison for nearly 30 years on attempted murder, drug-trafficking and kidnapping charges. Harris, 60, helped to fund and found the label with Suge Knight, although he had been in prison since 1988. With Dr. Dre, Tupac, Snoop and others, Death Row was one of the most successful labels of the 1990s, selling an estimated 18 million albums in its first four years. However, the label dissolved in a series of lawsuits and threats of violence and filed for bankruptcy in 2006. The two later fell out; Knight himself is currently in prison after pleading guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge stemming from a 2015 incident in which he ran over a man with his car.
Snoop Dogg, a former Death Row recording artist, was reported to be lobbying for Harris’ release in the days before Trump’s presidential term came to an end. The New York Post claimed that Snoop said in a Zoom call with reform advocates Alice Johnson and Weldon Angelos, “That’s great work for the president and his team on the way out. “They did some great work while they was in there and they did some great work on their way out. Let them know that I love what they did.” Johnson had her life sentence on a non-violent drug charge commuted by Trump in 2018 after Kim Kardashian lobbied on her behalf; Angelos, a former music producer who had worked with Snoop, had received a 55-year prison term on a minor marijuana charge in 2004 but was released after extensive lobbying by members of the music community and granted a full pardon by Trump last month.
A pardoned individual with a more tangential connection to music is Ken Kurson, a longtime ally of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and attorney Rudy Giuliani who was charged with cyberstalking last October in connection with his 2015 divorce. During the late 1980s Kurson was a member of the Chicago indie-rock group Green and later a band called the Lilacs, who released an album in 1992 titled “Rise Above the Filth.” He later joined Giuliani’s consulting company as deputy communications director and worked on his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s he formed a finance publication called Green Magazine and in 2013 was hired as editor in chief of the New York Observer when Kushner was its publisher.
Among those hoping for a pardon was Joe Exotic, the star of the Netflix series “Tiger King,” who is serving a 22-year sentence in a murder-for-hire plot. However, his name was not on the list. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was also not on the clemency list.
Trump had already pardoned several close associates caught up in the special counsel probe of Russian election interference, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, campaign manager Paul Manafort, and adviser Roger Stone.
He also pardoned Charles Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance charges.
Trump had also previously pardoned members of Congress who had been early supporters of his campaign, including Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Chris Collins of New York. He had issued pardons to prominent business figures as well, including Michael Milken, Conrad Black, and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.
At the urging of Kim Kardashian West and other celebrities, Trump had also become interested in using his pardon power to curb excessive drug sentences in some cases. He pardoned Alice Marie Johnson, a criminal justice reform advocate who was sentenced to a life term for drug trafficking. Johnson praised the president at the Republican convention last year, and Trump issued several other pardons at Johnson’s urging.
Ellise Shafer contributed to this report.