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Prominent celebrity lawyer pleads guilty to leaking documents to reporters in Fugees rapper's case

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent defense attorney whose star clients have included Snoop Dogg pleaded guilty Friday to leaking grand jury information to reporters about a political conspiracy case against a rapper from the Fugees.

David Kenner, a California-based attorney known for his representation of celebrities like Suge Knight and Tory Lanez, was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor contempt of court charge. He also agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.

Federal prosecutors say Kenner was representing Prakazrel “Pras” Michel, a founding member of the Fugees, when he gave grand jury information and photos to two reporters for Bloomberg News for “defense-oriented” stories that ran in March 2023, shortly before the start of the Washington, D.C. trial. Michel's trial included testimony from such figures as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

As is typical in criminal cases, Kenner had gotten access to evidence in order to prepare Michel's defense, but had been ordered by the court not to share the information, prosecutors said.

Kenner’s attorney said in court documents that the reporters originally agreed to sign a protective order, but later changed their minds. A Bloomberg News spokesperson declined to comment.

Kenner, 82, told the judge who sentenced him that he was reckless for not taking steps to terminate the reporters' access to grand jury information. He described it as a “low point” in his 56-year legal career.

“Obviously, I made a terrible mistake,” Kenner said.

Michel was eventually convicted of all 10 counts, including conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. The Grammy-winning rapper faces up to 20 years in prison on the top counts.

Michel is now pushing for a new trial in the case. His new attorney, Peter Zeidenberg, says Kenner made a host of errors. That included bungling closing arguments by using an artificial intelligence program. Once touted as the first use of generative AI in a federal trial, the closing arguments included Kenner misattributing a famous lyric from a song by the rapper Diddy to the Fugees, according to court documents.

The charge to which Kenner pleaded guilty carries a maximum prison sentence of six months, but U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said a term of imprisonment or home detention wasn’t warranted. His probation term will be unsupervised under the terms of a plea agreement he struck with prosecutors.

Mehta initially expressed surprise that prosecutors agreed to a sentence without a fine. Mehta said a $5,000 fine — the maximum amount allowed under the statute — may be a “small but symbolic” addition to the sentence.

L. Barrett Boss, one of the defense attorneys, said Kenner was planning to retire after Michel’s trial. But Boss said Kenner is “very strained financially” because he spent $1.4 million “out of pocket” on Michel’s defense.

A spokeswoman for Michel said the conviction reflects a breach of client trust. "While Mr. Kenner argues that he was merely trying to mount the best possible defense for Pras Michel, his client, Mr. Kenner’s reckless actions crossed critical ethical lines, failed his duties as counsel, and ultimately have cost him dearly," Erica Dumas said.

Michel was charged with funneling money from a Malaysian financier to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign through straw donors, then trying to squelch a Justice Department investigation and influence an extradition case on behalf of China under the Trump administration.

The financer, Low Taek Jho, also helped finance Hollywood films, including “The Wolf of Wall Street," which starred DiCaprio. Jho has since been accused of masterminding a money laundering and bribery scheme that pilfered billions from the Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB. He is now an international fugitive and has maintained his innocence.

Kenner had argued during the trial Michel simply wanted to make money and got bad legal advice as he reinvented himself in the world of politics.

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Whitehurst reported from Philadelphia.