Ex-Fugees Rapper Seeks New Trial Over AI-Crafted Closings

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Ex-Fugees rapper Prakazrel "Pras" Michel, who was convicted in April of foreign lobbying charges, has asked a Washington, D.C., federal judge for a new trial, arguing a litany of issues prejudiced trial proceedings against him, including allegations his former attorney used an experimental artificial intelligence program to draft closing arguments.

Michel, 50, a Grammy-winning artist who rose to fame in the late 1990s, and his new attorneys at ArentFox Schiff LLP claimed in a Monday motion that Michel's former defense attorney, David Kenner of the Kenner Law Firm, employed a "never-before-used" AI program, EyeLevel.AI, to write closing arguments in a trial over claims the rapper illegally funneled foreign money into and attempted to influence American politics.

Kenner, who Michel alleges has a financial interest in EyeLevel.AI, then touted the technology as "an absolute game changer for complex litigation" in a press release issued by the company after a D.C. federal jury convicted Michel on charges of defrauding the U.S., acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements to banks and federal investigators, and intimidating witnesses.

"The system turned hours or days of legal work into seconds. This is a look into the future of how cases will be conducted," Kenner said, according to a press release posted on EyeLevel.AI's website.

Michel contends Kenner and co-counsel Alon Israely used the "experimental program" during his criminal trial to benefit financially.

EyeLevel.AI's litigation assistance, which allegedly can ingest daily trial transcripts to suggest closing arguments, was developed in partnership with secured document storage company CaseFile Connect, according to the AI program's press release. CaseFile Connect's website lists a Los Angeles-area address that matches the address Kenner has listed for his law firm on the State Bar of California's website.

"The reason they used the experimental program during Michel's trial and then boasted about it in a press release is now clear: They wanted to promote the AI program because they appear to have had a financial interest in it," Michel argued in Monday's motion. "They did this even though this experiment adversely affected Michel's defense at trial, creating an extraordinary conflict of interest."

Kenner and Israely weren't immediately available for comment Monday night.

Monday's motion offers a scathing review of Kenner's closing arguments, which Michel and his new attorneys say failed to make the "strongest and most obvious" defense arguments, rebut government evidence or refer to key elements of Michel's charges.

Kenner's closing arguments also conflated the two criminal schemes Michel was accused of participating in during two different presidential administrations when they should've been addressed separately, according to the motion. Additionally, he attributed a lyric from rapper Diddy's song, "I'll Be Missing You," to Michel's former group The Fugees, according to trial transcripts.

"At bottom, the AI program failed Kenner, and Kenner failed Michel," Michel said. "The closing argument was deficient, unhelpful, and a missed opportunity that prejudiced the defense."

Closing arguments weren't the only part of trial preparation that Kenner outsourced, Michel claims. The attorney was accused of using contract attorneys from e-discovery vendor Business Intelligence Associates Inc., which Israely co-founded, to draft the defense's opening statements and motions, to prepare direct and cross-examination questions, and to work on jury instructions, according to Monday's motion.

Additionally, Kenner allegedly missed several opportunities during trial to object to hearsay testimony and the introduction of attorney-client privileged conversations and prejudicial evidence, Michel claims.

"Kenner was unqualified, unprepared, and ineffectual throughout the trial, and his myriad errors severely prejudiced the defense and undermined the reliability of the verdict," Michel said.

Monday's motion also points to actions committed by the judge, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, that potentially prejudiced the proceedings.

Michel accuses Judge Kollar-Kotelly of introducing to the jury, and allowing them to consider during deliberations, the fact that a judge overseeing grand jury proceedings in this case issued a crime-fraud exception ruling indicating that Michel conspired with his onetime attorney George Higginbotham to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Additionally, the government is accused of wrongly using a case agent as an overview witness who provided testimony on his opinion of Michel's guilt. The agent testified that Michel was guilty of at least one scheme on 17 occasions, according to the motion.

"Each of these errors independently requires a new trial, but together they leave no doubt that a new trial is warranted," Michel said.

Also on Monday, Michel filed a motion for acquittal on all counts but two witness tampering charges, arguing the government's evidence "fell woefully short of proving" his guilt.

Michel was convicted of conspiring with Malaysian billionaire and alleged fraudster Jho Low to funnel Low's money into former President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign through so-called straw donors.

The pair is also accused of lobbying former President Donald Trump to drop a federal investigation into Low's role in the embezzlement of billions of dollars from Malaysia's sovereign wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB. Michel was also convicted of lobbying Trump, on behalf of China, in a bid to extradite Chinese dissident Guo Wengui.

Low, who is named as a co-defendant in Michel's case, is currently a fugitive in China, but Malaysia is reportedly in talks to repatriate him.

Pras is represented by Peter Zeidenberg, Michael F. Dearington, David M. Tafuri, Sarah "Cissy" Jackson and M. Scott Peeler of ArentFox Schiff LLP.

The government is represented by John D. Keller, Sean F. Mulryne and Nicole Lockhart of the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division.

The case is USA v. Michel et al., case number 1:19-cr-00148, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.


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