Pras Michel, a former member of the Fugees convicted earlier this year related to laundering millions of dollars to President Barack Obama’s campaign, called for a new trial on Monday by claiming his legal team used artificial intelligence to craft their closing argument for the jury.
Michel, 50, was found guilty in April in a federal court on ten criminal counts related to an international conspiracy to help China influence the U.S. government, including concealment of material facts, making false entries in records, witness tampering, and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power.
In his 113-page motion filed with a federal judge in Washington, the hip-hop artist’s new legal team argued that Michel’s Los Angeles-based lawyer, David Kenner, used litigation assistance technology in the trial, contributing to “prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel.”
Kenner “used an experimental artificial intelligence (AI) program to draft the closing argument, ignoring the best arguments and conflating the charged schemes, and he then publicly boasted that the AI program ‘turned hours or days of legal work into seconds,'” the legal team from D.C.-based ArentFox Schiff wrote. “It is now apparent that Kenner and his co-counsel appear to have had an undisclosed financial stake in the AI program, and they experimented with it during Michel’s trial so they could issue a press release afterward promoting the program — a clear conflict of interest.”
Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg reportedly wrote in a declaration accompanying the motion that Michel’s ex-publicist notified some legal team members that Kenner had boasted at the end of the trial that “AI wrote our closing.”
“Michel’s counsel was deficient throughout, likely more focused on promoting his AI program and saving himself from the contempt proceeding than zealously defending Michel,” Zeidenberg wrote.
Zeidenberg referred to a press release by a firm called EyeLevel issued in May that included a quote from Kenner calling the AI tool “an absolute game changer for complex litigation” while omitting that the grand jury convicted Michel on all ten felony charges after three days of jury deliberation.
The trial included testimony from high-profile witnesses, from Leonardo DiCaprio to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Michel, who rose to fame in the early 1990s upon forming the East Coast hip-hop trio with Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean, played a central role in a wide-ranging conspiracy to improperly influence top government officials, including the Obama and Trump administrations, according to federal prosecutors.
Authorities accused Michel of taking about $88 million from Malaysian financier Jho Low, who also faces charges separately for allegedly embezzling billions from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, between 2009 and 2014. Court documents and trial evidence detail that Low and Michel conspired to lobby President Trump and the Justice Department to drop the 1MDB embezzlement investigation and extradite a Chinese national on behalf of Beijing.
During the Obama administration, authorities said Michel and Low funneled millions of dollars into roughly 20 straw donors for President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012. According to NBC, Michel told trial jurors that he accepted approximately $20 million from Low, who hoped to get a picture with Obama. However, he claimed he did not intend to use the money as foreign campaign contributions or his services.
Michel also admitted to giving approximately $800,000 in donation money to friends intended for exclusive access to Obama fundraisers in Miami and Washington, D.C., roughly priced at $40,000 per seat. Still, he considered the funds “free money” and his to spend.
Michel has reportedly remained out of jail on bond since the first charges were filed in 2019. He faces up to 20 years in prison, but authorities have not yet set a sentencing date.
The artist is set to join the Fugees on a North American reunion tour on Tuesday connected to the 25th anniversary of Lauryn Hill’s solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” where the trio plans to perform more than 20 concerts.
It’s unclear if Michel will attend the full tour.