MIAMI — One year after flying to Miami in a chartered plane with a bag packed with a gold-plated handgun and drugs, rapper Lil Wayne pleaded guilty Friday to possessing a firearm as a formerly convicted felon.
Lil Wayne, who had a felony gun-possession record from New York, was charged only with the new firearm offense despite being caught with marijuana, cocaine and other drugs during his holiday trip from Los Angeles to Miami, according to court records.
“Your honor, I plead guilty,” the 38-year-old rapper told U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams during a virtual hearing in Miami federal court.
Local and federal authorities discovered the weapon, which was loaded with six rounds of ammunition, during a search of the jet on Dec. 23, 2019, but they let the famous rapper go with the rest of his entourage. He celebrated the holidays at his waterfront home on upscale Allison Island in Miami Beach.
Lil Wayne, who was charged in mid-November, faces up to 10 years in prison at a Jan. 28 sentencing hearing before Judge Williams.
It’s uncertain whether the rapper, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., will serve much hard time. Generally, sentencing guidelines range from one year to two years with his acceptance of responsibility on the gun charge, but his criminal history will be a potential factor in his punishment.
Before the presidential election last month, Lil Wayne tweeted a photo of himself with President Donald Trump, drawing immediate backlash on social media. Now that he has pleaded guilty to the new gun charge, the rapper might ask Trump, who was defeated by Democrat Joe Biden, to consider a pardon before he leaves office on Jan. 20.
Lil Wayne’s defense attorney, Howard Srebnick, declined to comment on the possible pardon request before Friday’s virtual court hearing.
At the hearing, Srebnick said that his client chose to plead guilty and “owned up” to possessing the handgun when questioned by investigators who searched his chartered plane last December. But Srebnick said that had Lil Wayne faced trial, the lawyer would have pursued a motion to suppress evidence of the weapon — a Remington 1911, .45-caliber gun — found in his bag based on what he called an illegal search by Miami-Dade police and FBI investigators. But investigators said they obtained a search warrant to look inside Lil Wayne’s bag.
During the Friday afternoon hearing, Lil Wayne spoke respectfully to the judge as he described his personal history, including being born in New Orleans, dropping out of high school in 10th grade, obtaining his GED and attending the University of Houston. He did not graduate. When asked about his use of any drugs, he said he was only taking daily medication for his epilepsy.
Judge Williams reminded the rapper, who was granted a $250,000 bond recommended by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the defense, that as a newly convicted felon he has given up certain civil rights, including voting, and cannot possess a weapon or ammunition — “not a single bullet,” she said.
As a convicted felon involving a decade-old case, Lil Wayne wasn’t supposed to have a firearm on him during his travels to Miami a year ago. But investigators said the South Florida rapper, appearing high, admitted to owning a gold-plated pistol found in luggage during the search of his private jet just before Christmas of last year, according to state court records.
He told Miami-Dade police and FBI agents that the gun had been given to him as a Father’s Day gift, according to a copy of the search warrant obtained in January of this year by the Miami Herald.
The record revealed details surrounding the search of a private jet with Lil Wayne and his entourage on the afternoon of Dec. 23. Inside the rapper’s bag, the warrant shows, law enforcement agents reported finding the gun, along with bullets, suspected cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, heroin, painkillers and prescription-strength cough syrup often used to make a concoction called Purple Drank. Cops also found $25,938 in cash.
Although Lil Wayne was allowed to leave, he remained exposed to the new gun charge, filed by federal prosecutor Daniel Marcet. The rapper had been convicted a decade ago when he pleaded guilty in New York to possession of a firearm stemming from his arrest in July 2007. A loaded .40-caliber semi-automatic gun belonging to him was found on his tour bus.
Three years ago, the rapper was also linked to a convicted drug dealer named Harrison Garcia, who got 30 years in prison for dealing marijuana, Xanax and “lean,” the drink made with potent prescription cough syrup and soda. During Garcia’s trial, a federal agent said Garcia confessed to selling “a lot of narcotics” to the rapper.
Lil Wayne has famously celebrated the powerful soda brew, also known as “purple drank” or “sizzurp.” He even suffered seizures after apparently drinking massive amounts of the cocktail, the celebrity gossip website TMZ reported.
Five bottles of prescription Codeine, the cough syrup, were also found on the rapper’s luxury jet in December 2019.
The Miami Herald first broke the story about the search of the luxury jet on Dec. 23. A week later, Srebnick sent a “cease and desist” letter to the newspaper, saying descriptions of the contents in Lil Wayne’s bag were “false” and “defamatory.”
An anonymous tip led Miami-Dade police and FBI agents to board the Gulfstream V aircraft at Opa-locka Airport, which had just arrived from California. The plane’s pilot allowed officers to search the aircraft.
When they boarded, “it was readily apparent” that Lil Wayne “was under the influence of illicit narcotics based on his delayed speech and partially closed eyes,” according to the search warrant approved by a Miami-Dade state court judge. The warrant found probable cause for allegations of marijuana trafficking and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Two police dogs searched the aircraft, which smelled of marijuana, according to investigators. When FBI agent Justin Carsten asked Lil Wayne about any weapons on board, the rapper replied “there is a gold-plated Glock firearm inside his book bag ... which was given to him as a Father’s Day gift,” the warrant said. It turned out the weapon was actually a Remington pistol similar to a Glock.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this story.