Jurors on Thursday convicted rapper Nicki Minaj’s brother of sexually assaulting his former stepdaughter in a Baldwin home, after a monthlong trial in which the defense claimed the allegations were invented to try to extort $25 million from the man’s famous sister.
Jelani Maraj, 38, of Baldwin, now faces up to life in prison following his convictions in Nassau County Court on predatory sexual assault on a child and endangering the welfare of a child.
Court officers took Maraj, who had been free on bond and showed no emotion after the verdict, into custody after state Supreme Court Justice Robert McDonald ordered him held without bail in Nassau County’s jail.
Prosecutors had told jurors Maraj began abusing the victim when she was 11, raping her repeatedly between April and November 2015 while her mother was at work.
Now 14, the victim testified Maraj would call her “his puppet” and tell her she had “no say” in what he did to her. She said Maraj slapped her if she refused his sexual advances, threatening that she would be taken away from her mother if she told anyone about the abuse.
The defense had claimed the girl’s mother had beaten her and her younger brother to get them to go along with a fabricated sex abuse tale the woman made up in an attempted $25 million shakedown of Maraj’s celebrity musician sister.
Maraj’s Garden City attorney, David Schwartz, also told jurors the girl’s mother contacted Nicki Minaj after Maraj’s arrest and relayed “if she was paid $25 million, these charges could just go away.”
The victim testified that her account had nothing to do with money and wasn’t motivated by beatings from her mother.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement after the verdict that “justice demanded” Maraj “be held accountable for these heinous acts,” and she hoped the verdict would help the victim and her family “close this terrible chapter in their lives.”
Juror Arthur Naclerio, 67, of Massapequa, said the victim’s testimony was the most convincing piece of evidence, and it was “not hard” for the jury to reach its verdict.
Schwartz said his client would file an appeal, adding: “The amount of evidence that we had that wasn’t allowed in this case is unbelievable.”
In her testimony, Maraj’s former wife rebuffed claims of an extortion plot and denied forcing her children to go along with a made-up tale of abuse, while admitting to beating her children at times and drinking alcohol excessively in 2015.
The girl’s brother, now 10, testified he saw Maraj’s “private parts” touching his sister after walking into a bedroom in 2015 and seeing them both partially unclothed. Prosecutor Emma Slane told jurors the brother “unlocked a massive ugly secret” when he later revealed what he had seen to a child protection worker after his sister sparked an investigation while speaking to a school counselor in November 2015.
A scientist who testified for the prosecution said a stain on a pair of the victim’s pajama pants was a 1 in 291 billion match to Maraj’s DNA profile.
Maraj’s mother, Carol Maraj, who declined to comment after the verdict, said in her testimony for the defense that her son’s then-wife made a comment she perceived as an extortion threat while driving her to court following her son’s Dec. 1, 2015, arrest, telling her: “It’s gonna take lots of money to get out of this one.”
A Manhattan civil attorney also testified under defense subpoena he demanded $25 million from Maraj’s prior law firm in March 2016 to resolve the civil side of the case after the girl’s mother hired him to seek damages. He added that the demand was rejected, and his firm never filed a lawsuit because they got fired.
Naclerio said the jury didn’t believe a shakedown happened.