Hip-hop artist Fetty Wap gets 6 years in prison in drug trafficking case
A federal judge sentenced hip-hop artist Willie Junior Maxwell II — better known as Fetty Wap — to 6 years in prison at his drug trafficking sentencing Wednesday, saying a 2021 incident where he threatened to take another man’s life while out on bail cost him an extra year.
Maxwell, 31, who admitted at a plea hearing last August to participating in a scheme to acquire more than 500 grams of cocaine on Long Island and distribute it in New Jersey, had sought the mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison.
Maxwell and his co-defendants had been charged with conspiring to distribute heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine between June 2019 and 2020, but Maxwell pleaded guilty only to conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
“Seventy-two months is balanced; it's fair,” U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert in Central Islip said of the sentence, which follows a recommendation by the probation department. “The additional year sends a message.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- A federal judge sentenced hip-hop artist Willie Junior Maxwell II — better known as Fetty Wap — to 6 years in prison at his drug trafficking sentencing Wednesday.
- Maxwell, 31 admitted at a plea hearing in August to participating in a scheme to acquire more than 500 grams of cocaine on Long Island and distribute it in New Jersey.
- He apologized to the more than a dozen friends and family members who attended the sentencing and said he hopes “to do some good” when he is released from prison.
Prosecutors had asked for a guideline sentence of 7¼ to 9 years in prison, saying Maxwell brandished a gun in an incident captured on video in which he threatened to kill a man who had ridiculed his late daughter. Prosecutors also said the rapper’s music referenced past drug offenses he was never prosecuted for.
Defense attorney Elizabeth Macedonio said her client was a kid from Paterson, New Jersey, whose life was “supposed to go nowhere” before he was “in the national spotlight” with a hit song at 23 years old.
She said he lived a law-abiding life before his arrest in the drug conspiracy. She quoted references to criminal activity in the songs of The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Marley and said questionable lyrics were never used against those artists.
“The government shouldn’t use [Maxwell’s] art as a way to increase his sentence,” Macedonio argued.
“Bob Marley didn’t shoot the sheriff and he didn’t shoot the deputy as far as I know, but [Maxwell] did sell large amounts of cocaine,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Caffarone countered when it was his turn to address the judge.
Seybert, who called it "one of the more difficult cases" of her three-decade career on the bench, said the song lyrics were not a factor in her sentence, but his conduct while on bail was.
“You did a lot of dumb things,” the judge told Maxwell.
Maxwell apologized to the more than a dozen friends and family members who attended the sentencing and said he hopes “to do some good” when he is released from prison and to use his story as a cautionary tale for younger generations.
“I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now,” Maxwell said.
Macedonio said her client’s illegal activity began during the COVID-19 pandemic, when family members, including his nine children, were depending on him for financial support, but he had no opportunities to perform. Maxwell said he “only wanted to support his family.”
Caffarone said that while many people were out of work at that time, “they didn’t turn to peddling poison.”
The “Trap Queen” rapper and his co-defendants used the U.S. Postal Service and cars with hidden compartments to move drugs from the West Coast to Long Island, where they were stored for distribution to dealers on Long Island and in New Jersey, prosecutors have said. He was arrested by FBI agents on Oct. 28, 2021, at Citi Field in Queens, where he was scheduled to perform at the Rolling Loud music festival.
Search warrants executed during the investigation resulted in the recovery of approximately $1.5 million in cash, 16 kilograms of cocaine, 2 kilograms of heroin, numerous fentanyl pills, two 9 mm handguns, a rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, a .40-caliber pistol and ammunition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Other defendants charged in the scheme include former New Jersey correction Officer Anthony Cyntje 25, of Passaic, New Jersey, who pleaded guilty to a drug and weapons charge and was sentenced to 6 years in prison. Co-defendants Anthony Leonardi, 49, of Coram, his brother Robert Leonardi, 28, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, and Kavaughn Wiggins, 28, of Coram have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Charges against co-defendant Brian Sullivan, 27, of Lake Grove are still pending.
Maxwell, whose only prior conviction was on a misdemeanor reckless endangerment charge for driving a vehicle 105 mph while “impaired by alcohol,” rose to prominence after “Trap Queen,” his debut single, reached No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 2015.