Friday, September 4, 2009
The Wave Crashed
Say what you will about Max B, but love him or hate him, you can't deny he was entertaining. I personally like the vibe he was bringing to the music and was listening to Max in 2005 when he had no mixtapes out and would drop a crazy ignorant freestyle verse here and there. I thought dude had some talent and style....Even his slang was a fresh approach. WAVY!!!! OOOWWWW!!! yeah it was wild but the way music has been these last few years has been straight up boring and non exciting. Anyways...Max hold your head!!!! 75 yrs. is a looong time in prison.
Spotted at http://coolehmag.com
THE FALL OF MAX B
words: CHRIS BENSON & D. PORTER
photos: ALEXANDER RICHTER
The sky was crystal clear on the morning of June 9th, 2009 in Hackensack, New Jersey. With an entourage including his lawyer and a camera crew, Charly Wingate, a.k.a. Max B, confidently strode through the parking lot of the Bergen County Courthouse. As he approached the fortress-like building he told the camera that he’d be found innocent and leave a free man. His attorney, Gerald Saluti, bragged about his cross-examination of the state’s star witness and was pretty sure of a victory. The mood in Max’s camp was extremely optimistic as they walked towards the courthouse’s thick stone walls.
But the wave that Charly Wingate had been riding would abruptly knock him over that morning. In the Hackensack courtroom of Judge Harry G. Carroll, Max would be found guilty and possibly spend the rest of his days in a New Jersey prison. Like most other court proceedings it was mundane, almost boring. Judge Carroll read the charges and the jury’s forewoman replied “guilty” to nearly every one. Then the jury was polled and they all agreed that Max and his stepbrother, Kelvin Leerdam, had planned a crime that resulted in one David R. Taylor II losing his life. The jury exited, Max and his lawyers embraced, and a stoic Mr. Wingate kept his composure as he was placed in handcuffs, unlikely to be a free man ever again.
On January 18, 2005, Inmate 97A2823, a.k.a. Charly Wingate, walked out of the Oneida Correctional Facility a free man. He had “maxed out”, no pun intended, on an eight-year bid for robbery in the 1st degree. It would appear that Max came out determined to make up for lost time. How he got involved with Diplomats “capo” Jim Jones is anybody’s guess, but Max certainly must have made an impression. Seven months after his release from prison, the rapper/singer was heavily featured on Jones’ second solo album Harlem: Diary of a Summer. In fact, the lead single “Baby Girl” was co-written by Max and got fairly significant radio play, considering the independent nature of the release.
Whatever else one might say about Joseph Guillermo Jones, a.k.a. Jim “Capo” Jones, no one could say that he is a man who would let an opportunity pass him by. Having started his career as a hypeman for his friend, Harlem rapper Cam’ron, Jones did not hesitate to walk through the doors Cam opened for him. Along with another Cam’ron protégé, Juelz Santana, they formed The Diplomats—once Cam’ron strong-armed his way out of a bad record deal with Sony/Epic. Almost immediately Cam signed with Rocafella Records, through his long time affiliation with Rocafella co-founder Damon Dash, and the Harlem group’s debut went platinum. Jones had bigger plans though. When the majors weren’t interested, he launched his solo career through indie label Koch (now d.b.a. E1) Records. His first album sold surprisingly well, but Jones was still mostly known for being Cam’ron’s sidekick. It was not until he began working with Max B that Jones would come within striking distance of the level of wealth and fame he so clearly wanted.
This complex, interwoven tale starts in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Baltimore native Gina Marie Conway was living in North Carolina in 2005 with her common-law husband of nearly ten years. She was a huge fan of the Diplomats, the Harlem-based rap crew fronted by Cam’ron, Jim Jones, and Juelz Santana. Her admiration for ‘Dipset’ was evident in the amount of time she spent in chat rooms singing their praises. Ms. Conway had to have been thrilled when she heard that the Dipset was to perform a show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The fact that she was able to get a backstage pass to the show no doubt added to her elation. This excitement was tempered when she realized that she would not be meeting Cam or Juelz, as the show was headlined by Jim Jones. Disappointed about not meeting her rap idols, Ms. Conway did take the time to introduce herself to the Diplomats that were there. Among the performers she interacted with was Charly Wingate, a.k.a Max B. While she would claim later in court that she only talked to him in order to smoke his weed, Gina and Max’s relationship would end up being something neither party would soon forget.
It was only about a month after this initial meeting that Max convinced Gina to move to New York to live with him. So she packed her life up and left her “husband” in North Carolina to cohabitate with Max at his residence at 1950 Andrews Ave. in the Bronx. By all accounts it was a sordid affair. Max was busy getting his rap career together while Gina was plying her trade as an exotic dancer at the Bronx gentleman’s club Sin City. Neither of these professions makes monogamy easy, and beyond that, neither person seemed like the marrying type, a fact that came up repeatedly in the trial. With various boyfriends and girlfriends in the picture, this initial arrangement did not last long. About six months after moving in, Gina and Max parted ways. Gina returned to her native Baltimore to live with family.
This first break-up was only the beginning of end for this couple. After a few months apart Max was once again able to convince Gina to move back to New York to live with him. But this time there was one small caveat. Max was now living with another woman, by the name of China. But as we would find out, Gina is an open-minded woman, so this fact did not deter her. She jumped at the chance to join Mr. Wingate’s harem. While the exact arrangements aren’t clear, both women considered themselves to be Max’s girlfriend and didn’t mind the presence of the other—or the various other women that he dealt with.
Like all good things Gina and Max’s second act did not last. China, a woman so striking that Saluti prefaced her every mention in court with that fact, became pregnant with Max’s child. Max and China thought that Gina should no longer live with them, so Ms. Conway was forcibly thrown out of the apartment. At this time, it is about a month before David Taylor’s death.
But again the story of these two lovers did not end there. Gina was determined to stay in New York and carve out her niche in Harlem World. In August of 2006 she moved in with one Michael “Murda Mike” Wingate at 480 St. Nicholas Ave. Murda Mike is one of Max’s Brothers. Also living there at the time was Max’s Uncle Hassan, and one of Mike’s girlfriends. The fact that she lived with people related to Max says a lot about Gina. She still had very strong feelings for Max; she still called herself his girlfriend and saw him on a daily basis. Despite their rocky relationship the two remained very active in each other’s lives.
At this point in her life Gina seemed very driven to remain in New York. The life she always wanted was starting to become a reality in her mind. But New York is an expensive town, even if one doesn’t have a 4–6 pill per day Ecstasy habit like the one Ms. Conway was allegedly nursing. In order to support her addiction and establish herself in the NY, Gina supplemented her dancing income by pushing coke for Uncle Hassan. It became clear that Ms. Conway would be down for just about anything that would help her stay in NY and remain in Max’s life.
Early 2006 was the calm before the storm for Charly “Max B” Wingate, in more ways than one. We can only assume that having gone from prison inmate to somewhat successful rapper/ghostwriter/hook specialist in only one year must have been a nice turnaround. But at the same time, Max was thirsty for the limelight, and in the grand scheme of things, he was still just the sidekick of a sidekick. While the rapper was undoubtedly getting some money from Jim, clearly in Max’s mind it was not enough—unsurprising given his appreciation for the finer things in life. Still, Charly was heavily involved in working on Jones’ forthcoming album and had snagged an attention-grabbing feature on the chorus of a Cam’ron song attacking Jay-Z, called “You Gotta Love It.” The song was getting spins due to the controversial subject matter and Max’s slurred sing-song flow stood out; people began to mention his name. Jim Jones also paired him with the Byrdgang, a crew of street-rappers that Jones was trying to form into a new wing of the Diplomats movement. Things seemed to be headed in the right direction.
The seeds to this crime were first planted in April 2006, when a man who would cross Gina’s path began making money hand over fist. According to court documents, this was when Allen “Jay” Plowden first began his mortgage and mail fraud scheme. Using the name of a fictitious closing agent, Harrison and Associates, Plowden received a loan from Novastar Mortgage in the amount of $300,000. The proceeds were then wired to an account in a California bank held by Virtual Automated Technologies. VAT, as it’s called, produces stored value cards, SVCs, which function like ATM cards but are pre-paid through VAT, not linked to a bank account. Plowden, via Harrison and Associates, had these cards sent to a mailing address in Atlanta. From April 9th to April 12th, the funds that Novastar mortgaged to “Harrison and Associates” were withdrawn through numerous ATM transactions.
Emboldened by the success of his first scam, Plowden sought to do it again. This time he upped the ante significantly. Court documents allege that in August of 2006, another fake company, “Williams and Associates” applied for a home loan from Countrywide Financial. This time Plowden struck it rich, obtaining a loan worth $1,426,769.62. On August 10th this money was wired to United Community Bank. Four days later the funds were wired to Vida Mejor, a subcontractor of Virtual Money, Inc, who issued SVCs paid for with the proceeds of this loan. On the 17th the cards linked to this “virtual money” were mailed to an address in Bethesda, Maryland. Over the course of the next week this money, like the money from the Novastar loan, was made available to Plowden via numerous ATM withdrawals.
Despite the attentions spent on this case, exactly what David Taylor’s role was in Plowden’s scheme, and his past in general, remain murky—at least in the documents and testimony COOL’EH was able to procure. What we do know is that in death, Taylor was found in possession of a falsified passport and other materials related to the mortgage scam his partner was running. It seems safe to assume his association with Plowden must be connected to the fact that both men are from Florida. Whatever their past was, once they began making the rounds in New York City, Plowden and Taylor stuck close together.
Getting the money turned out to be the easy part of Jay Plowden’s scheme; holding onto it would prove to be an entirely different matter. Like the suitcase in Pulp Fiction, Plowden’s bags of money would attract problems from all directions. While he was orchestrating the withdrawal of his cake, Plowden and Taylor met with an individual who, unbeknownst to them, was actually an undercover FBI agent. According to the numerous conversations that were recorded on that day, August 16, 2006, Plowden was seeking to launder large amounts of the cash. The U.S. Attorney’s office was unwilling to discuss how the FBI identified the two men or the details of how they were lured into this money-laundering sting, but we do know that Taylor and Plowden revealed that they got the money through ATM withdrawals, and agreed to the undercover agents’ fee for washing the loot.
The two men continued to attract attention—attention that would cost Jay Plowden his freedom and David Taylor, much more. At some point after arriving in New York City, and during the months before the Bergen County robbery, the two out-of-towners frequented a motor vehicle accessory business in the Bronx. It was there that they met Julio Cruz and Edward Blancaneaux, two New Jersey residents who are referred to in the U.S. Attorney’s charging documents as “the car thieves.” Plowden was allegedly at the “rim shop,” in words of Kevin Leerdam’s attorney Jennifer Bonjean, “to get his Mercedes Benz tricked out.” While Bonjean believes that they may have had other illicit business with Plowden and Taylor, all we know for sure is that the two Dominican men eventually introduced Plowden and Taylor to two women, Maite Castro and Gisselle Nieves. It would appear that the purpose of the introduction was of an amorous nature. Whether the two women were indeed prostitutes or merely posing as such is hard to assess, but we do know that they were soon conspiring with Cruz and Blancaneaux to rob the two Floridians.
Amazingly, Plowden was not done making bad decisions or making new friends. Around the time of the meeting with the supposed money launderer, Jay Plowden would have another fateful encounter. Gina Conway was standing on the corner of 126th and Lexington on September 20, 2006, waiting to be picked up by Max. Plowden was also on that corner, sitting in his white 2007 Mercedes-Benz S55. Conway would later recall in court that she felt like something shady was going on in the car. Other unknown males were in the car with him and she thought some sort of black market transaction was going down. But Jay saw something he liked in Gina, and approached her. By this point Max had told Gina he couldn’t pick her up and in her own words she “had nothing better to do.”
Undeterred by his shadiness, or perhaps more impressed with his vehicle, Gina got in Jay’s car. Their first stop that night was a bar. While there, Gina noticed Jay talking to another sketchy character, a man referred to in court as “G-Head.” Ms. Conway would later share that, again, she felt like her new friend was into something illegal. But that did not stop her from putting her number in one of Mr. Plowden’s phones.
After a few drinks the two got back in the Benz. Gina claimed that she told Mr. Plowden to take her to her job at the strip club Sin City. But he had other ideas, and made a beeline for a motel in Mahwah, New Jersey. According to testimony “Jay” was very aggressive in his romantic approach to Ms. Conway. His fruitless “courting” was so forward that when she left, he felt obliged to give her money as a way to make amends. By this point Gina was starting to notice the stacks of cash that her new friend had. Gina returned to city around 4 that morning. She shared some of her cash with Max, a common practice as she claimed he was broke and always “took” money from her, then headed to Sin City. There she waited for a new romantic partner/Sin City bouncer, Turon Gholston, to get off work. The couple made a rendezvous at a seedy uptown motel before going their separate ways.
September 21st, 2006, was the beginning of the end for this circle of Harlem hustlers. The scenario started when Allan “Jay” Plowden called Gina. He wanted to further apologize for his actions the last time they met by taking her shopping. Once again showing a severe lapse in judgment, despite the fact that this man had almost raped her, Conway agreed to meet and told him where she lived. When she got in the white Mercedes she began to fathom the sheer abundance of Plowden’s ill-gotten revenue. He had a black bag stuffed with thousands of dollars and she saw large amounts of cash stashed in the car’s glove box and center console. Jay was going to put all that money to good use in the form of a shopping trip to one of Jersey’s more expensive malls, Paramus Park.
The trip to the mall was not unlike Michael Jackson’s shopping spree in the documentary Living with Michael Jackson. Money was no object, and Jay made that abundantly clear. He purchased everything that he and Gina wanted. Money was so far from his mind that on more than one occasion he forgot to take his black bag of cash with him. All sorts of cash register bells and whistles had to be going off in Gina’s head at this point.
The two left the mall and headed for a Holiday Inn on Route 4 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Mr. Plowden checked in, had the Benz valet parked, and his luggage portaged. For some strange—and fateful—reason he gave Ms. Conway a keycard to the room so she could use the bathroom without having to wait on him. Jay took a shower and emerged, seemingly ready for Gina to “pay him back” for his generous nature at the mall. According to Gina, this did not happen and Jay decided it best that she head back to the city, as he had a long night of clubbing ahead of him.
At this point events become complicated. Attorneys for Mr. Wingate and his co-defendant/stepbrother Kelvin Leerdam cast doubt on events as Ms. Conway recalled them, without providing much of an alternate narrative. What follows is largely based on her testimony.
Gina met up with Max at the basketball courts at the Lincoln Houses, a housing project on 132nd St. between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Max was upset that she had been out of touch and demanded to know where she had been. In an attempt to make him jealous Gina told him about Jay and his fancy Benz and the bottomless cash he had on hand. As luck would have it Gina went in her purse for a lighter and found the keycard Jay had given her. She also shared with Max that Jay would not be in the room for a while as he was out clubbing. This prompted Max to make a comment, according to Gina, along the lines of “getting this dude for his guap.” One of the trial’s lighter moments occurred when Conway explained to Bonjean, Kelvin Leerdam’s lawyer, the meaning of guap.
Subsequently, Gina went with her and Max’s mutual friend, Chinchilla, to get some E pills. Ironically her pill spot was on the same corner where she had met Mr. Plowden. She returned to Max around midnight on what is now the twenty-second of September 2006. She took one of her four to six E pills and imbibed some Hennessey with the crew as they watched the games. Around this time Leerdam, a.k.a. Sims, was summoned by his stepbrother and soon arrived at the basketball courts. Gina would testify that Max said if she took Leerdam to the hotel room, he would love her forever. Since she had the keycard and Plowden was thought to be out of the room, it was to be a simple burglary. She would jump at the chance to earn Mr. Wingate’s undying affection.
Gina recalled that Charly Wingate’s next move was to call a cab driver he frequently employed, one Mamdou Gbenga. Mr. Leerdam and Ms. Conway then piled into the Lincoln Navigator and headed for the Holiday Inn on Route 4 where Plowden and his partner in crime, David Taylor where staying. All the pills and drinks fogged Gina’s sense of direction, making what should have been a quick cab ride into a two-hour sojourn. The trio rode all over the upper Northeastern corner of New Jersey, even venturing across the state line into lower New York. This wasted time proved to be a costly error, as it allowed Mr. Plowden time to return from the club.
When the Navigator finally made it to the right hotel, Mr. Leerdam had the driver pull into a side parking lot and told him they’d be right back. She went inside with Leerdam and proceeded to room 408, where Plowden was staying. They were unable to open the door because of a problem with the keycard, so Gina claimed that Sims (as Leerdam was known to her) told her to call Jay’s phone. They heard it ringing, confirming he was in the room but were undeterred. Leerdam came prepared, bringing with him a handgun, gloves, and duct tape just in case.
Gina knocked on the door and was greeted by Giselle Nieves. Unbeknownst to them, Ms. Nieves was there as part of a plan to obtain the Plowden and Taylor’s car keys in order to abscond with the luxury vehicles (In addition to Mr. Plowden’s Benz, Mr. Taylor had purchased a 2007 BMW 750). Kelvin Leerdam burst from behind Gina Conway brandishing his pistol. With Jay still sound asleep, Mr. Leerdam kept a gun trained on Ms. Nieves while she and Ms. Conway searched the room for the cash. It is believed that at this time Ms. Conway filled a Louis Vuitton duffle bag with the valuables she did find, clothes, jewelry, and a laptop used by Jay in his various fraudulent schemes. Gina maintained that during this time she tried to comfort her visibly distraught captive, Ms. Nieves. Angered about not finding the cash, Mr. Leerdam confined their hostage to the bathroom and told Gina to wake up the man she knew as “Jay.”
Jay was woken and bound with duct tape. At Max’s trial Plowden testified that he refused to acknowledge the presence of any cash in the room and told his assailants that his partner, David Taylor had the money. According to his testimony, they demanded that he call Mr. Taylor—who was in a room on a different floor with Maite Castro—and tell him to bring the cash to the room. Mr. Taylor, who was about six foot four inches tall and weighed about 270 pounds entered room 408, only to have a gun jammed in his face. Apparently he reacted instinctively and struggled with Mr. Leerdam, himself a big guy, before being shot in the face. However, according to all available testimony, Taylor did not bring any significant amount of money up to the room. In the version of events supplied by the survivors Plowden had removed a few hundred dollars from his main stash and secured it under the mattress. Conway and Leerdam allegedly took this money, along with the aforementioned designer luggage, jewelry, and laptop. Gina would later testify that she took cash from the dead man’s pockets but couldn’t stand to take the watch off his wrist, a task more to Mr. Leerdam’s temperament. At the end of the day, it was this relative pittance that the state contends Leerdam and Conway were forced to abscond with after inadvertently killing David Taylor.
Accorfing to her own testimony, upon returning to Manhattan, Gina did not meet up with Max B. This seems counterintuitive since her entire story is based on the fact that Mr. Wingate planned and put her up to this robbery. Instead of bringing her bag of goodies to him, a man she loved who told her he would love her forever if she pulled this heist off, she sought out her new flame, Turon Gholston. The two met up at Sin City and returned to Gholston’s place in Bloomfield, NJ. When they got there Gina gave him some of the items from room 408, including clothes and the laptop. This is interesting to note due to the size of the men involved. Mr. Gholston and Mr. Plowden are similar in size, with both men being about six feet tall. Max B, for lack of a better term, is quite diminutive, topping out at about 5’ 7” and weighing around 140 pounds. Why Gina would take the clothes of a much bigger man if they were to be given to Max is unknown. From there Gina went to the apartment of “Murda Mike” Wingate, where she stashed the LV duffle bag and its remaining contents. Charly Wingate never received any property or cash that had been taken from room 408 the night David Taylor was killed.
As it turned out, “Jay” Plowden’s thirty grand had been in the room all along, hidden under the plastic liner in the trashcan. But instead of fleeing the scene of the crime or calling the police, his behavior after the robbers left was inexplicable. On the stand, Plowden claimed that he freed himself and attempted to chase Conway and Leerdam. A motel employee stated that he saw a partially clad Plowden behaving suspiciously in the hallway and that Plowden told him to call the police. The police arrived to find Allan barricaded in his room with Ms. Nieves and the corpse of Mr. Taylor. He eventually came out of the room and was detained by the Fort Lee police.
Things certainly did not look good for Plowden. Taylor’s dead body and tens of thousands of dollars in ill-gotten cash had been found in his room. As it turns out, the items he was missing would prove to be his undoing. The Toshiba laptop and thumb drive, which were later found in the possession of Gina’s friend Turon Gholston, provided the F.B.I with a detailed record of his crimes. The proverbial smoking gun, as it were. Among the items on the computer were files relating to the opening and closing of mortgages, invoices for the shell company Harrison and Associates, and the picture of a US passport issued to one Justin Lieberman. The hard drive also contained copies of agreements for the mailboxes that the suspects used and the card numbers for the SVCs that were sent to said mailboxes. For good measure much of this information was also found on a Sony Vaio laptop discovered in David Taylor’s BMW. The feds had already been sizing Plowden up for a fall and eventually took him into custody, where he remained through his guilty plea on charges stemming from the fraudulent mortgage schemes. But Allan did not go into federal custody quietly. He cooperated with New Jersey authorities and once he began spilling the beans, the police immediately began searching for Gina Conway.
On September 26th 2007, the search for Conway brought Bergen County Prosecutors Office Detective Dave Borzotta to Max B’s residence at 1950 Andrews Avenue in the Bronx. According to the detective, Mr. Wingate was very helpful. “Mr. Wingate dealt himself in,” Borzotta would later recall at trial. He was forthcoming about his dealings with Ms. Conway and even told them addresses she was known to frequent. Max revealed that she could be at “Murda” Mike’s, where stolen property was later found. Max also told them about Sin City, close to where they ultimately caught her. Max gave the officer his cell number and even called him on more then one occasion during the preliminary investigation. Borzotta recalled one instance when he went to interview Max and the rapper was outside his Bronx residence, talking on the phone with Jim Jones. “The police talking to me about some bullshit,” Max was overheard telling his future nemesis. Max even let the police search his apartment to look for Gina. It was clear from the officer’s testimony that Max was not considered a suspect at this time.
The search for Gina Conway ended on September 28th 2006 around 12:30 a.m. when she tried to borrow money from Mr. Gholston. She was placed under arrest and taken to the 32nd Precinct. Conway was cooperative with the officers who interrogated her. It is at this point that things get complicated. Gina was Miranda-ized at 12:58 a.m. and the tape of her confession started rolling at 1 a.m. Whatever was said during those two minutes, Ms. Conway proceeded to sing like a bird, painting Mr. Wingate as the mastermind behind the botched burglary that left David Taylor dead with a gunshot wound to the face.
After interviewing Ms. Conway, officers proceeded to Max’s apartment and arrested him at about 6 a.m. that same morning. The long arm of the law caught up with Kelvin Leerdam at his aunt’s apartment on Flatlands Ave. in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he was also taken into custody.
Only weeks after Max was arrested and charged with a slew of felonies, including murder, Jim Jones released the first single for his upcoming album. The song, entitled “Ballin’,” quickly became a nationwide hit with the help of the New York Football Giants. On their way to the franchise’s first Superbowl victory in seventeen years, the Giants players began pantomiming jump-shots to celebrate big plays. The move was an obvious reference to the song, which was already popular on local radio. Giants Stadium soon began playing the song over the PA system. The Giants success on the field certainly paid off for the Capo, who watched as his song hitched a ride with one of the NFL’s most popular teams as they tore through the playoffs on national television. The single gained a traction unlike anything Jones had been able to generate before, from strip clubs to sporting events, “Ballin” was everywhere. Meanwhile the man who claimed (quite credibly, since he is credited on the album) to have written the song for Jones, was sitting in a New Jersey jail cell under a $2 million dollar bail. The single would peak at a meteoric #5 on the Billboard charts and Jim’s subsequent LP commercially outperformed all his previous work, selling over 100,000 units in it’s first week. Max B was featured on seven songs of the albums songs and claims he ghostwrote or collaborated on many more. Regardless of exactly what he did, Max’s influence on Jim’s music is plain to hear, and Jim was no fool, he clearly saw Wingate’s talents and put them to good use. The problem was, Max was in prison now, and seemed to think that what with all he had done to ensure Jim’s success, it was time for some payback. But for Jones, the $2 million bail was likely starting to seem like a lot to pay for someone who could be on their way back to jail for a very long time.
It is possible that had he never been arrested, Max and Jim would have fallen out anyway but Max’s prison stint made it a certainty. The friction started when, after months in the can, Max began publicly airing his grievances at having not been bailed out yet. Apparently, sitting in the jail day room and watching Jones pose in front of luxury vehicles while reciting lyrics Max wrote rubbed him the wrong way. Go figure. While stopping short of outright disrespecting his former boss, Max made it clear that he felt something fishy was going on and seemed to impugn Jones’ financial dealings with him. Jones copped various pleas in interviews about why he hadn’t put up his protégés’ bail money, alluding to wanting to wait until the bail was lowered or wanting to give Max the money once the rapper was released. What spurred him to finally act, we may never know, but at least one party has alleged that Jim only decided to bail Max out after he found out somebody else might. Whatever his reasons, Jones’ next move would make Iago blush, Suge Knight blanch, and even the infamous Morris “Mo” Levy tip his fedora. Jim “Capo” Jones went to the jail and gave Max the $90, 000 he needed to get out of jail in return for Max inking a new contract. When the relationship between Max and Jim later turned to outright acrimony, Jones would tell radio disc jockey Funkmaster Flex that:
“He’s signed to my label and I bought his publishing for roughly $90,000 which he cried over the phone to get out of jail for…he sold his soul, the stupidest move I’ve ever heard anybody make in their entire life.”
It did not take long for Max to realize that he had made a costly mistake. He would later claim that Jim had been eager for him to get back in the studio after bailing Max out, but Max felt he was owed more money. He also seemed to be becoming leery of continuing to do Jim Jones albums when his own solo work was getting scant attention from the Capo. For his part, Jones would later imply that the wisecracking rapper was attempting to rise above his station and being unappreciative of what Jones had done for him, before and after the arrest. By this time, Jim had parlayed the success of “Ballin’” into a financially significant deal with Columbia Records. Roc-A-Fella was already history and Dame Dash was more than happy to hitch his wagon to Jim’s; they began working not only on his album, but a documentary and a potential reality show. Meanwhile, the Diplomats as a crew had pretty much ceased to function as Jim and Cam’Ron slowly grew apart and Jones made it clear that he had every intention of being bigger than Cam ever was. The most successful personalities in Dipset, Cam’Ron, Jones and Juelz Santana parted ways and began promoting their own new crews. The second-tier Diplomats artists like 40. Cal, Hell Rell and J.R. Writer, were left to largely sink or swim on their own. So when Max began to disassociate himself from Jim and Byrdgang /Diplomats, it made sense that Jones had neither the time nor the desire to try and placate his former weed-carrier. However, the more he nonchalantly dismissed Max as a “twerp” and a “nobody”, the more lyrical gasoline Max poured on the fire he was attempting to light under the so-called Capo. Suddenly, Jim, whose whole career had been filled with disrespectful interviews and vendettas against some of New York’s more respected rappers, was getting a taste of his own medicine. If Jones had set the bar high for ignorant foolishness and blatant “goonery”, Max B cleared it on his first try. His claims were legion; he wrote all of Jim’s songs, he pepper sprayed Jim at an event, Jim’s “wifey” tried to seduce him on numerous occasions, Jim was a homosexual, Jim couldn’t come to Harlem anymore, Jim needed police protection to keep Max from getting “at him”…and so on. To Wingate’s credit, people started to notice and pretty soon Max was omnipresent in the hip-hop blogosphere. His non-coastal style and easily digestible lyrics won fans in this age of hook-driven, regional hip-hop. His amusing interviews and on-camera antics kept the Internet turning to him for ready-to-post controversy. It did not hurt that veteran beat maker Dame Grease was backing him, giving the mixtapes an additional level of credibility. The timing of Max’s feud against Jim Jones also gained him additional listeners because of the controversies surrounding the dissolution of the Diplomats. At least some hip-hoppers tuned in to Max’s schtick simply because Jim Jones is a polarizing figure in hip-hop and, generally speaking, everyone likes to see a bully get bullied. All this, combined with his distinctive slang, surfing-related catchphrases, and ongoing murder case meant that Max’s visibility was at an all time high.
Unfortunately for Max, no matter how many graphic verbal attacks he made against Jim and his “wifey,” and regardless of how many hours of anti-Jones DVD footage he compiled, the Capo held one hell of a trump card. The entirety of Charly Wingate’s publishing was now the legal property of Jim Jones. This meant that anything he had done in the past put money in Jim’s pocket, and anything he would ever do was essentially under Jim’s direct control. Max could put out free mixtapes (and did he ever!) or other penny ante deals that Jim couldn’t be bothered to track down and stop, but any hope for mainstream or even independent success would have to come with Jones's blessing. By now however, Jones had clearly had enough of Max’s antics and had no inclination to be charitable. He made it clear that Max had passed the point of no return in an interview with Worldstarhiphop.com, saying:
“Maxi-Pad? He’s like finding Nemo right now, where is that faggot? [Actually] he is on the shelf right next to my Nike boots, we ain’t never letting him come out”
With little more than the word of Gina Conway, the trial of the State of New Jersey v. Wingate, Leerdam, and Conway began. The fact that Max and Kelvin were tried together raises the first set of eyebrows. As attorney Jennifer Bonjean would argue on her client's behalf, the two men’s defense strategies should’ve kept the trials separate. Gerald Saluti, Esq. argued that Gina was a woman scorned and that Mr. Wingate was never at the crime scene and was not involved in the crime at all. Ms. Bonjean’s argument was that whomever Ms. Conway brought to the Holiday Inn as muscle, it was not Kelvin Leerdam. After all, the police were unable to find a murder weapon, or any physical evidence tying Leerdam to the crime scene. Although Leerdam had a drug conviction, there was no previous involvement with violent crime on his criminal record. When reached for comment Ms. Bonjean pointed out that there were significant irregularities in the witness identification, as well:
“Allan Plowden was presented with two photo arrays in the hopes of making an identification of the shooter. The first photo array contained a photo of my client and he did not identify my client. He did not identify anybody. They showed him a second photo array where they put an updated version of my client, in the array and Plowden actually identified somebody else. He identified one of the fillers. So that was very problematic for the investigation; the lead victim, the person with supposedly the best ability to identify the man in the room, not only was unable to do so in one array but actually identified the wrong person in a second photo array.”
Nevertheless, when he appeared as a prosecution witness during the trial of Wingate and Leerdam, Allan “Jay” Plowden readily fingered Kelvin as the shooter. Bonjean considers the testimony “laughable”, given Mr. Plowden’s failure on two occasions to pick her client out of a photo array and said she argued that “the state did not have a good faith basis to ask [Plowden] to make an identification in court” after his earlier failures. And as far as cab driver Mamdou Gbenga’s identification of Leerdam, Ms. Bonjean had the following to say:
“What the police did, which I think is very…I think, improper…is they did not show him a photo array, because, I think they questioned his ability to make an identification. So he was never shown a photo array or asked to identify the person who he drove in the cab that night with Gina Conway. But come trial they put him on the stand and he made an in-court identification of my client. I argued that it was improper to even elicit that testimony and, in fact, it is going to be an issue on appeal. That it was improper to have him identify someone from a suggestive situation where you have him sitting at counsel table with two white lawyers. The only black people sitting at counsel table were Charly Wingate and my client. The cab driver knew who Charly Wingate was and had driven him on prior occasions, so there was only one person left to choose. When I questioned Mr. Gbenga on cross-examination about his recollection of the person he drove in the cab, he had no ability to describe him, and in fact, described him differently to police.”
Reviewing the records of the trial it is clear that both defenses would’ve been better served if the trial had been split. One instance involved cell phone records. Detective John Haviland of the prosecutor’s office testified that on the night of the crime Ms. Conway “chirped” Mr. Leerdam about the time they should’ve been in the cab looking for the hotel. While possible that they could’ve been playing as they drove around, it is curious that they would chirp each other on the way to commit a felony in the same vehicle. The prosecutor did say that it could’ve been the two talking to each other as they fanned out across the Holiday Inn, but it still didn’t add up. Points such as this could have been better argued if the defense co-counsels didn’t have to worry about implicating the co-defendant. When asked, Jennifer Bonjean detailed several other ways that the joint trial hurt both Wingate and Leerdam:
“I felt strongly that the trials should be severed. [Both men’s] defenses were limited by virtue of the fact that they were sitting next to each other. Speaking hypothetically, Mr. Wingate could have, he did not, but he could have tried to point the finger at Gina and Mr. Leerdam. But that would have been more easily done had they been severed. Similarly, we argued before the judge that we intended to present a defense which centered around third-party culpability, meaning that Gina Conway did this crime with somebody else. And that one of the possible people she could have done it with was Charly Wingate, or other persons associated with Charly Wingate. Ultimately, that was not necessarily the defenses’ pursuit but we didn’t want to be limited in our defense…but [the court] denied it and as I understand it, getting a case severed in New Jersey is pretty difficult.”
Another quirky aspect of the trial was that the prosecution’s entire case is based on a witness that is sketchy for more than one reason. As noted before, Ms. Conway loved her Ecstasy and her alcohol. She was drunk and high when the crime was committed and when she gave her statement to the police. At more than one point she testified that the intoxicants had clouded not only her memory but also her perception of events as they happened. For instance, she said on the stand that Mr. Leerdam threatened her with his gun and directed her to do things in the hotel. She had never before stated that she was under duress during the crime. Her testimony is seemingly riddled with enough inconsistencies to cast a shadow over everything she said under oath.
During Gerald Saluti’s cross-examination Ms. Conway stated that she did not commit the crime, despite the fact that she plead guilty and faced up to 18 years in prison. When asked who did the crime she pointed to the defense table and said, “They did." Saluti continued, reminding her that she signed a document saying she did commit the crimes and that what she signed and said in her statement was the truth. The truth didn’t matter much to her, as she explained repeatedly that the main reason she copped her plea was to avoid life in prison. She continued to hedge her bets throughout her testimony, claiming that the plea is “basically true” but that she signed it in an act of self-preservation.
When Giselle Nieves, the woman who was held captive along with “Jay” Plowden during the robbery, took the stand, she only added to the murkiness. At one point she testified that, in her opinion, Plowden had been in on the robbery from the beginning. She went on to state that he seemed unperturbed when Taylor was killed and was mostly concerned with his notorious “bag of money”. Of course, according to her own testimony, she herself was only in the room as part of a wholly unconnected scheme to rob Plowden and Taylor.
Neither Charly Wingate nor Kelvin Leerdam took the stand during the trial to explain the nature of their relationship with Ms. Conway, or offer an alibi.
The whereabouts of the duffel bag of cash David Taylor supposedly had in his own hotel room are not known. If indeed such a bag did exist.
Perhaps most surprising is that none of the many people involved in this convoluted Venn diagram of a case seems to have benefited at all from their respective schemes. As of this writing, Max and his stepbrother await sentencing later this month from inside a jail in northern Jersey. They continue to protest their innocence and say they will be filing appeals. Gina Conway also awaits sentencing, although having co-operated with the authorities as part of her guilty plea should ensure that she does significantly less than the 18-year maximum penalty that she copped out to. Since she has already done about three years inside and is being credited with time served, a lenient sentencing might mean that she would be out in 7-10 years. Attorney Gerald Saluti has spoken at length about his close relationship with Wingate and has vowed that he will not rest until he sees Max’s convictions overturned. Unfortunately for Saluti, the press has roundly criticized his actions before, during, and after the trial. As of press time we were unable to reach him or even determine if he was still employed with his last known firm. When we called the only number we could find, a woman would only tell us that she had been instructed to say that Mr. Saluti “no longer worked there". Allan Plowden is in Federal prison facing decades behind bars on a host of interstate fraud charges. Being that he is forty-four years old and there is no parole in the federal system, Allan may very well die inside. Jim Jones got his big shot as a solo artist on Columbia but without Max the album flopped hard, and he has not yet managed a hit single on par with “Ballin”. He still owns Max’s publishing but being that the permed rapper may never get out of jail and has dependents to support, Jim may be forced to sell it back at cost or run the risk of appearing to be taking food out of the mouth of Wingate’s newborn.
Most people seek to take advantage of their opportunities, everyone connected to this saga sought opportunities to take advantage. Each actor here established an interlocking web wherein they took turns playing and being played. Jim Jones has nothing to do with the murders in Jersey but his attempt to rise from middling independent artist to hip-hop mogul on par with Jay-Z and 50 Cent was greatly aided by the writing talents of Max B. Then, when Max sought Jim’s help in making bail, the Capo obliged by pulling off one of the rap industry’s more noteworthy shenanigans when he obtained Max’s publishing rights in return. This wasn’t all bad for Max, as this provided him with a soapbox from which to rail against Jim Jones, the very person who co-signed his entry into the music game. His feud with Jones raised his profile considerably, which in the end may help his dependents (assuming Jim ever gives up the publishing). Charly Wingate and Gina Conway in turn used one another for all they were worth. Max provided Gina a way out of the boondocks and the chance to live the life of a rapper’s girlfriend. That was fine with Charly, as Gina offered a ready supply of sex and pocket money. For Gina, opportunity knocked when she met Jay Plowden and his bottomless bag of cash. Taylor and Plowden took advantage of stolen identities and pocketed a lot of cash in the short run but they both paid a steep price in the end. The lawyer who presented Charly’s case, Gerald Saluti, also knew a good business opportunity when he saw one. Whether he was in YouTube videos outlining his defense strategy, announcing a new career as a hip-hop manager, or tweeting during trial; Saluti made sure everyone knew he was defending Mr. Wingate. As for Mattie Castro, Julio Cruz, and Eddie Blancaneaux, their case is still pending for a robbery they claim they never even got the opportunity to execute.