By Eriq Gardner
Anybody who believes that crime doesn't pay should turn their attention to a thought-provoking $10 million lawsuit just filed in federal court in California.
Ricky Ross, who was convicted in 1995 of running one of the biggest drug cartels ever, is now suing rapper Rick Ross for stealing his name and identity. He wants to stop the sale of Ross' albums and get his name back.
But it gets even better.
Also named in the lawsuit are Jay-Z, Def Jam, UMG and Vivendi who allegedly participated in a commercial conspiracy.
The plaintiff, also known as "Freeway" Ricky Ross, was convicted of running a drug empire that covered Los Angeles in the 1980s. In the complaint, he comes pretty close to taking pride in that fact.
"Plaintiff's exploits and reputation earned him celebrity status and instant name recognition as a black inner-city crime legend amongst his peers, the 'urban crime' public and law enforcement, and as a result plaintiff's story became nationally known when he was linked to the CIA's 'Iran-Contra' infamous political scandal involving the U.S. military, corrupt foreign governments, drug cartels, guns, wars, and politics, during President Reagan's administration, that led to a congressional investigation by Rep. Maxine Waters into the influx of drugs and guns to poor U.S. urban communities..."
So can a famous drug trafficker protect his celebrity persona? This is America, right?
Jay-Z as former president of Def Jam, signed a rapper named William Leonard Roberts to a recording deal in 2006. Roberts' stage name became "Rick Ross." The plaintiff says that Jay-Z, as an alleged former drug dealer himself, should have known better. Jay-Z is quoted as saying that Rick Ross' signing was one of his top priorities at Def Jam.
Rick Ross' albums have been successful. His second LP "Trilla" sold 500,000 units and debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. His next album, "Teflon Don," is due out next month, but not if Ricky Ross has anything to say about it.
The former drug dealer asserts trademark and his rights of publicity in seeking an injunction that would prevent the rapper from using the "Rick Ross" name or releasing any albums using it.
The plaintiff points out that the US Patent & Trademark Office has rendered a "final refusal" to William Roberts in attempts to trademark the "Rick Ross" stage name. We've reached out to UMG for comment.
Ricky Ross believes it's his
trademark, since his celebrity has conferred it with a secondary meaning. Further, he believes his persona is worth quite a bit of ka-ching. "Plaintiff's name has gained value and goodwill since 1995 when he was sent to federal prison," says the complaint