One Live Jew

After years in the shadow of Luther Campbell, Joe Weinberger has emerged with his own label -- and a tainted reputation

A business associate recommended Weinberger's firm to Campbell, who was looking for help in organizing his finances. "I used them to do my tax work," Campbell says. "Because I didn't want to get caught up in the life, the shit most other artists get caught up in when they don't do their taxes." Eventually Campbell hired Weinberger as his in-house counsel. "He wanted to come work with us, you know, a lawyer from a leading law firm getting involved in the music industry. I was like, OK, cool."

Weinberger remembers it differently: "He wanted me to get involved. I kind of felt sorry for him. I really didn't want to see him go out of business, and I was brought in to try to restructure things." By "restructure" Weinberger understood his job to mean firing people from a bloated payroll.

Campbell says he was drawn to Weinberger precisely because of his bookish tax attorney demeanor. "The reason why I hired him was because he was just that: someone who had no interest in the music business," Campbell emphasizes. "In certain areas in your business, you got to have the person that don't fit. A person that has no interest in being in that type of business or environment. He does his work, and he goes the fuck home. He doesn't go hang out at the strip club with the artist and all that."

The face of a thug? An employee claims Weinberger is behind a car bombing and a series of death threats
Steve Satterwhite
The face of a thug? An employee claims Weinberger is behind a car bombing and a series of death threats
Lil' Joe Records' CFO Robert MacDonald was present when Brooks' car burned
Steve Satterwhite
Lil' Joe Records' CFO Robert MacDonald was present when Brooks' car burned

Campbell came to depend on Weinberger. And Weinberger bonded with the star as well. Shortly after joining the company, Weinberger bought a house and moved in just down the street from Campbell in the Country Club of Miami Estates. The neighborhood of pricey homes was situated at the edge of a golf course. Campbell has a passion for the game, but Weinberger didn't even play. There was some light socializing. "We used to watch football games," the lawyer remembers.

Company underlings were less than enchanted by Weinberger's no-nonsense approach. For one thing he was viewed as Campbell's hatchet man. But the mistrust ran even deeper. Former Luke Records employees say they never believed Weinberger shared their vision to see the underdog recording agency thrive. The lawyer kept to himself and didn't mix with the other employees, virtually all of whom were black. "He didn't make that much of an impression on me, but the impression he made on Luke I wasn't happy with," an ex-employee offers. "Luke was almost brainwashed by him. Anything he said was like the final word."

Campbell concedes this may have been true. "During the course of time, a lot of the people in my office used to say that I gave Weinberger too much leverage, which I did to a degree, because in the position that he was in, I felt that he needed to have a little latitude with folks," he explains. "But I gave the wrong person too much leverage."

Weinberger insists he was eager to see Luke Records succeed. So eager, in fact, that he floated his boss personal loans to help cover the payroll. Weinberger claims he loaned Campbell a million dollars altogether and was never paid back $400,000 of it. Campbell says he never asked Weinberger for these loans and was blind-sided when Weinberger sprang the news that the rapper owed him a huge sum of money.

Campbell says Weinberger consistently kept him in the dark about the company's finances. "I had no financial breakdown of how my business was, whether I was making money or whether I was not making money, and I asked him that on different occasions," Campbell recalled in a deposition a couple of years ago. "I never got that information. I had no conceivable idea of how my company was doing financially."

"That's simply not true," Weinberger says, adding that Campbell received regular statements from an accountant.The problem is those statements weren't looking good. Beset by lawsuits and Campbell's profligacy, Luke Records had begun to unravel. In 1992 Campbell's 2 Live Crew cohorts, David Hobbs (Mr. Mixx), Mark Ross (Brother Marquis), and Chris Wong-Won (Fresh Kid Ice the Chinaman), left the company after a dispute over money, and then sued Campbell for royalties. A short time later, Peter Jones, a Campbell-produced rapper who went by the moniker M.C. Shy D, also sued, claiming he wasn't paid enough for his album Gotta Be Tough.

Weinberger hired Nicolas Manzini, a Princeton-educated attorney with no experience in entertainment law, to handle both matters. Manzini dispatched the 2 Live Crew matter swiftly and painlessly. But he made several key errors in the Jones case, most notably turning down several settlement offers from Weinberger's old classmate Richard Wolfe, who was representing Jones.

In the end Wolfe won a $2.3 million judgment for his client. Campbell didn't have the money on hand and was forced to declare bankruptcy. (The judge in the case appointed Wolfe trustee of Luke Records. In this capacity he sued Manzini for legal malpractice. That case was settled last year.)

Weinberger says when he saw the mistakes Manzini was making, he told Campbell. But by this time, the rap mogul didn't trust his consigliere. They had already clashed over Weinberger's loans. And when the rapper's efforts to re-sign his old group stalled, he blamed Weinberger. "I was signing 2 Live Crew back up to my company," Campbell said in a deposition taken for Manzini's malpractice suit. "It seemed like Mr. Weinberger wasn't representing the company; he was representing [the other 2 Live Crew members] by giving them certain things that he wouldn't normally give any other artists in the contract. So at that point, I felt like there was some kind of connection with him and these guys."

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