Rapper and actor Ja Rule was sentenced Monday to more than two years in federal prison for failing to file income tax returns, and said a combination of youthful inexperience, bad advice and an inability to manage fame and fortune lead to his financial troubles.
"I in no way attempted to deceive the government or do anything illegal," he said, minutes before being sentenced in a New Jersey federal court. "I was a young man who made a lot of money — I'm getting a little choked up — I didn't know how to deal with these finances, and I didn't have people to guide me, so I made mistakes."
The multiplatinum-selling artist, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, admitted in March that he failed to pay taxes on more than $3 million that he earned between 2004 and 2006 while living in Saddle River. Although he pleaded guilty to three counts of unfiled taxes, he admitted he hadn't filed for five years, according to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Ja Rule was sentenced in New York City last month to up to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to attempted criminal weapon possession. The case stemmed from a gun found in his car in 2007. Police said they stopped Ja Rule's $250,000-plus Maybach sports car for speeding and found a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic gun in a rear door. The gun wasn't registered. He was charged under a New York law that generally bars people from having firearms outside their homes or workplaces.
Depending on his release date for his New York sentence — he could serve as little as 18 months in that case by meeting good behavior requirements and other standards — he could serve from four to 12 months of the federal sentence. The federal time will be served at the Oneida Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where he is serving the state sentence.
He has also been ordered to pay $1.1 million in unpaid taxes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Mack had asked the judge not to let Ja Rule off with no jail time on the federal charges, saying a message had to be sent.
"The court should impose the same sentence it would impose on someone who is not a celebrity," Mack said.
Now 35, Ja Rule first emerged as a hardcore rapper in the late 1990s but then became known for his collaborations with female pop singers, including Jennifer Lopez and Ashanti. He scored a best rap album Grammy Award nomination in 2002 with "Pain Is Love" and has sold nearly 20 million albums during his career.
On Monday, he wore a bright yellow prison jumpsuit and was handcuffed at the wrists. He turned to look at his wife, seated in the courtroom behind him, after the sentence was read. His wife, who was his high school sweetheart, declined to comment after the hearing, saying only that it was a stressful time. The couple have three children and still live in Saddle River.
Ja Rule's attorney, Stacey Richman, said her client was a talented high-school dropout who had not had the business prowess to handle sudden fame. When his business empire began to crumble, he became paralyzed by fear and inaction, she argued. She added that the Queens, N.Y., native never forgot his roots and made it a point to give back to his community after becoming famous.
In asking the judge for leniency, Ja Rule said he wanted to get back to work as soon as possible.
"My business is very 'out of sight, out of mind,'" he told the judge. "The longer I'm away, the longer it'll take me to get back to doing what I need to do to actually pay these taxes."