VH1’s popular reality show, Love and Hip Hop New York, will have to visit federal prison if it plans to keep Mendeecees Harris on the show.
Harris, one of the stars of the show, was sentenced to 97 months Tuesday for his role in a drug trafficking conspiracy that authorities say shipped large amounts of cocaine and heroin from downstate New York to the Rochester region.
With his wife, Yandy Smith, sitting in court, snuggling their 10-month old daughter, Skylar, beneath a pink blanket, Harris apologized in court “for any trouble I have caused the city of Rochester.”
At sentencing, Harris, 36, said he grew up fatherless in a tough neighborhood and stepped into the drug trade. But he said his children — he has four — have been his recent motivation to now stay away from crime.
“Ever since (having children), I’ve been trying to right my wrongs,” he told U.S. District Judge Frank Geraci Jr. at the sentencing.
Harris’ criminal ordeal became part of the plotline on Love and Hip Hop, New York,which follows New York City residents trying to make a mark in the hip-hop music industry. Smith has been a breakout star on the show, managing a hip-hop artist and starting a fashion line. This year, Smith and Harris wed on a special live shoeing of the reality show.
Even then, the specter of prison time loomed for Harris. He pleaded guilty in April to the trafficking conspiracy. At that time, he was free on bail, having agreed to pay over his earnings from the show and from paid public appearances to the federal government. To date, he has sacrificed about $170,000.
Harris also has regularly spoken to groups of disadvantaged children and teens in New York City and along the East Coast. One program in particular provided dozens of letters from youngsters and young men who said Harris’ presentation about his life helped them decide to steer clear of trouble.
“I want to make my family proud of me like your family and fans are proud of you,” one young man wrote in a letter that Harris’ attorney, Donald Thompson, read aloud in court.
With his guilty plea, Harris faced a penalty under recommended sentencing guidelines of up to 10 years. Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Sherman requested a sentence close to the 10 years, saying the sentence, coupled with Harris’ notoriety, would show to young people “that there are real consequences to the kind of criminal conduct he engaged in.”
The recommended sentencing range for Harris was 97 months to 121 months. Geraci settled on the lesser sentence.
“This is a tough case, Mr. Harris, because of the fact you were transporting poison to this community,” Geraci said. But, Geraci said, Harris has positively affected young people with his talks and can continue to do so when he leaves prison.
Harris already had served 15 months before he was released on bail. With good behavior, he could have five to six years of incarceration remaining, and that could be reduced with some changes now underway in sentences for drug-connected crimes.
Geraci allowed Harris to remain free until the federal Bureau of Prisons tells him where he will be incarcerated and when to turn himself in.
Mendeecees Harris gets into a vehicle after exiting the Federal Building in Rochester. Harris received a 97-month prison sentence. Video by Carlos Ortiz.
The specifics of Harris’ crimes are still somewhat of a mystery. Two men, including Harris’ brother, also have pleaded guilty to the conspiracy. Federal authorities allege that the conspiracy ran from 2005 until August 2012, with drugs reaching the Rochester region from at least 2006 through 2008. Geraci said in court that the Rochester region shipments were two to five kilograms of cocaine monthly, plus up to seven kilograms of heroin during the conspiracy.
The criminal charges apparently were the offspring of another criminal case that authorities were investigating.
While not discussing specifics of the allegations, Harris said in an interview after his sentencing that there were no drugs seized by authorities and the conspiracy claims from informants were unreliable. He said he did not want to risk going to trial and facing as much as 20 years in prison if convicted.
“I know I want to get my life back,” he said. “I just had to go through this.”
Federal prosecutors have alleged that an August 2012 raid at two New York City homes revealed the scope of the trafficking conspiracy. Authorities seized safe deposit boxes connected to the drug ring. A total of $911,000 was found in the deposit boxes, and another $615,000 in cash was discovered in two homes.
Yandy Smith said after the sentencing that the court hearing was bittersweet. Harris will not be home with the children, but she and they will travel to wherever he is jailed to see him, she said.
But, she said, the sentencing “brings closure.”
“Now we have a definitive number (with the sentence) and we can move forward,” she said. “I know there is an end.”
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