DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

"Empire" Boss's Kin Knows About Dramatic Scenes

Lee Daniels does not have to look for inspiration

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"Empire" Unscripted

MARCH 26--Lee Daniels, the director and co-creator of “Empire,” did not have far to look for inspiration when it came to creating characters and storylines for the nighttime soap opera that has piled on ratings with its tales of treachery, gunplay, drug trafficking, and gangsterism.

Like the fictional Lyons clan, Daniels’s own family members have been targeted in narcotics investigations, arrested, sent to federal prison, and, like "Cookie" herself, released early after cooperating with prosecutors, according to court and investigative records obtained by The Smoking Gun.

Set against the backdrop of a cutthroat record industry, the Fox TV show is Daniels’s hip hop version of King Lear--as autotuned by Timbaland--and features an array of memorable characters. Those roles were cast by the 55-year-old Daniels and his sister, Leah Daniels-Butler, the “Empire” casting director who is deeply familiar with music business gangsters.

Daniels-Butler, 49, has been married for 20 years to Henry “Black” Butler, the second cocaine trafficker with whom she has had a lengthy relationship. Lee Daniels is pictured above with Butler (left) in a recent Instagram photo that the ex-con captioned “The Unscripted Empire.”

Butler, a Los Angeles native and ex-member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips gang, was busted in mid-2010 on federal narcotics distribution charges. At the time of his collar by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Butler, now 49, was a convicted felon with a long rap sheet that included gun, drug, and auto theft convictions.

Asked whether he recognized parallels between his family and the “Empire” characters, Butler said, “Yeah, one hundred percent.” While noting that he had not provided his brother-in-law with guidance, Butler told TSG, “Am I trying to get on now as a writer and a consultant? Hell, yeah!” Daniels-Butler said, “There are some similarities, yes,” but she added that “Empire” reflected “so many peoples’s stories.”

Prosecutors identified Butler as a cocaine wholesaler whose principal client was James Rosemond, a New York City-based music manager who represented performers like The Game (and also had a rap sheet dating back nearly two decades). Butler and Rosemond, who once co-promoted a popular music convention, were friends who shared many recording industry contacts. For several years, Butler was an A&R man and marketer at Loud Records, where he worked with acts like the Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and Big Pun.

According to court records and testimony, Butler shipped hundreds of kilos of cocaine to Rosemond over a 15-year period, selling as much as $600,000 worth in a single month. Butler obtained the drugs from several Mexican supppliers--including a source known only as “Superman”--and shipped the cocaine to New York. In return, Rosemond sent packages stuffed with cash to Butler.

On occasion, Rosemond would travel to L.A. and deliver money directly to Butler. A $120,000 handoff took place poolside at the W Hotel in Westwood, while a second six-figure drop occurred while Butler was eating lunch inside Fred Segal, the upscale West Hollywood department store. Though Butler dabbled in music promotion and what he termed “urban marketing,” his cocaine distribution--as well as his sale of marijuana and Ecstasy--accounted for the majority of his income. The illegal operation also required him to carry around five separate cell phones.

While Butler ran his narcotics business, his wife held a series of casting jobs, including positions at Warner Brothers Television, where she worked on “Friends” and cast “The Wayans Brothers” show, according to her web site. In 2001, Daniels-Butler opened her own casting firm and has since worked on numerous TV and movie projects, including her brother’s films “The Butler” and “The Paperboy.”

Daniels-Butler is seen above in a photo taken during a 2013 visit to her incarcerated spouse. In an interview, Daniels-Butler said that, until her husband’s arrest by DEA agents, she was unaware that he had been trafficking cocaine during the first 15 years of their marriage.

Butler operated his promotion business through Mogul Media Group, a Nevada company formed in September 2001. But his name does not appear on the firm’s incorporation records, which instead list Daniels-Butler as the outfit’s president, secretary, and treasurer.

Butler’s illegitimate enterprise ended in August 2010, when a team of federal agents arrested him for narcotics trafficking. Butler was apprehended after a car chase during which he threw dozens of Ecstasy pills out of the window of his Cadillac Escalade. Six days before his bust, Butler was stopped by California Highway Patrol officers who discovered $96,000 in his car. While the money was in a bag that Butler said was his, he denied ownership of the cash, which was seized by police.

As Butler was being arrested by DEA agents, other investigators were surveilling the rented Thousand Oaks home where he resided with Daniels-Butler and some of the couple’s children.

Upon learning of her husband’s bust, Daniels-Butler exited the home carrying a bag that she placed inside her Mercedes-Benz. She was subsequently pulled over by agents, who found a loaded 9mm Beretta, a Tec-9 handgun, high capacity magazines, boxes of ammunition, and $39,000 in cash inside the bag. Aware that her husband was a felon on probation, Daniels-Butler admitted to agents that she removed the weapons from the residence so that Butler “would not get into more trouble,” according to a federal court filing.

Instead, Daniels-Butler was subsequently indicted for obstruction of justice and a second felony count. Butler, her codefendant, was charged with cocaine distribution, obstruction of justice, and weapons charges. While Daniels-Butler faced a 10-year maximum for her alleged crimes, Butler was looking at the possibility of life in prison.

According to DEA memos, this was the second time that Butler’s cocaine operation placed his wife in legal jeopardy. In late-1999, narcotics agents investigated the couple after a parcel sent to Butler was seized by investigators who discovered nearly $33,000 inside. A second cash-stuffed package arrived simultaneously at Daniels-Butler’s Warner Brothers office. When questioned about the packages, Butler lied to federal agents, claiming that he knew nothing about the coincidental cash shipments.  

The money, Butler testified years later, was the proceeds from drug sales, adding that he directed that some of the cash be sent to his wife. While no charges were filed against the couple, Butler would eventually acknowledge getting away with a crime.

Following Butler’s August 2010 arrest, a federal judge rejected a bail package that included a $1 million bond secured by Lee Daniels. Locked up in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, Butler soon opted to cooperate with federal investigators. After a series of debriefing sessions during which he detailed his cocaine business and identified suppliers and customers, Butler struck a plea agreement requiring him to testify against Rosemond.

Along with the prospect of a reduced sentence, Butler’s cooperation also benefitted his wife.

Instead of pursuing felony charges against Daniels-Butler, federal prosecutors allowed her to plead guilty to a misdemeanor drug possession charge. When agents raided the couple’s California home they found hundreds of Ecstasy pills, which Daniels-Butler said her husband “either used for his own recreational use or to promote a nightclub with which he was affiliated.” Daniels-Butler was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

Butler said that his decision to cooperate was influenced by the legal pressure being exerted on his spouse. “I wasn’t going to let my wife go to jail,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t have cooperated if my wife wasn’t involved...I’d have felt that I had to stay true to the streets.”

In addition to fingering Rosemond--who was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison--Butler offered an “Empire”-worthy twist during his meetings with DEA agents and Department of Justice lawyers.

Butler disclosed that one of his major cocaine buyers was Leonard Bostic, a Philadelphia man who investigators once identified as an associate of the violent Junior Black Mafia drug gang. Pictured above, Bostic, 49, is barred from entering Atlantic City casinos after he sought to launder $1.3 million in suspected drug money and illegal gambling proceeds, according to New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement records.

Butler also revealed that Bostic was the father of Daniels-Butler’s two children. When a prosecutor asked him during the Rosemond trial, “Who is Leonard Bostick?,” Butler replied, “My stepchildren's father.”

The illicit business relationship between Daniels-Butler’s ex and her husband spanned a five-year period ending with Butler’s 2010 arrest. Butler told investigators that he regularly sold Bostic kilos of cocaine that were shipped to Philadelphia via Federal Express and UPS.

But despite Butler’s first-hand account of these illegal transactions, Bostic has not been charged in connection with the alleged cocaine trafficking. While Bostic’s rap sheet shows gun and gambling convictions, it also includes a slew of withdrawn or dismissed charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault, and drug possession.

Bostic and Daniels-Butler are parents to two adult children who grew up in Philadelphia, birthplace of the the Daniels siblings, as well as Lucius and Cookie Lyon from “Empire.” While Bostic’s purported line of work could not be established, he formed Wizard Records, Inc. in 1989, and the company remains active, according to Pennsylvania state records.

Hakim Bostic, Daniels-Butler’s oldest child, is, like his stepfather, a convicted drug trafficker. Bostic, 31, pleaded guilty in 2013 to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and was later sentenced to 57 months in prison, according to U.S. District Court records. Bostic admitted to his role with a Philadelphia drug ring that imported kilos of cocaine purchased from a West Coast supplier.

Bostic is seen at right with Lee Daniels at the Philadelphia premiere of “The Butler.”

Working from L.A., Bostic’s job was to send drug packages to Philadelphia from a series of UPS locations. A federal indictment cites nearly two dozen occasions when Bostic shipped kilos of cocaine to the drug ring’s leader (who is now serving 15 years in prison).

Court records no not reveal how Bostic got involved in the narcotics operation, where he lived in L.A., or how he learned to properly package cocaine so it would not be detected in transit to Philadelphia.

Butler, Bostic’s stepfather, specialized in packaging narcotics and, for a time, was even hired by a fellow wholesaler to prepare his drug packages for shipment. However, Butler flatly denied ever involving family members in his cocaine operation. In fact, until a TSG reporter detailed his stepson’s criminal case, Butler said that he thought Bostic had been convicted of distributing marijuana. Likewise, Daniels-Butler said that she was unaware that her son’s case involved him shipping cocaine across the country.

Hakim Bostic is scheduled to be released from prison in June 2018. He is currently being held at the low security lockup in Fort Dix, New Jersey, where “Empire” is likely a favorite program. One of the show’s main characters is named “Hakeem Lyon,” an apparent nod by Lee Daniels to his incarcerated nephew.

Bostic will likely serve one year more in prison than his stepfather, thanks to the “substantial assistance” Butler provided to federal investigators, according to a prosecution court filing that described the felon as “pleasant, forthright and contrite” and noted that he cooperated with the government “in the face of significant risk to his and his family’s safety.”

Though federal guidelines dictated a minimum prison term of 30 years, Butler was initially sentenced to eight years in custody. Last year, that term was further reduced--to five years--after Butler helped investigators build a criminal case against a corrupt L.A. lawyer. In addition to meeting with federal agents, Butler also “convinced his wife, mother and sister to cooperate with the government’s investigation,” prosecutors reported.

Butler, who told TSG that he declined to enter the witness protection program, said that he served his entire prison term in general population, not a segregated unit. But that was a decision not without complications. In a letter to his sentencing judge, Butler wrote that he had been “outcast and stigmatized” by fellow prisoners. “I have been spit on, verbally assaulted, I have been called snitch, rat and many other insulting names. Inmates have even made threats to do bodily harm to me,” Butler added.

Butler--who also told the judge that “Being in jail made me feel like a loser!”--was released from prison late last year after serving a little more than four years. Based on a review of social media posts, he has wasted little time trying to reestablish himself.

Working from a 19th floor office in a Century City tower, Butler and a partner have launched a party/event promotion business and the felon is also affiliated with a talent agency.

On Instagram--where Butler uses the handle “blaqtacular_the_great”--he posts recent photos of himself with celebrities like comedian Mike Epps, musician CeeLo Green, rapper Doug E. Fresh, and “Empire” stars Malik Yoba and Bryshere Gray (who plays “Hakeem Lyon” and is pictured above with Butler). One image, which might be of concern to NBA security, shows the convicted cocaine trafficker posing next to Houston Rockets star Dwight Howard on opening night of the 2014-15 basketball season. Snapped inside the Staples Center in L.A., the photo is captioned, “Shout out to my man Dwight Howard for those court side seats last night.” Asked about the comped seats, Butler said, “I have friends who know Dwight Howard."

One Instagram photo shows Butler mugging in front of a large “Empire” billboard. The image, posted three months ago, is captioned, “This is how my family do it #Leediditagain.”

Butler accompanied his wife to the “Empire” premiere party and then began co-hosting (with Daniels-Butler and a Sony Music executive) weekly viewing parties at a Universal City sports bar.  For the show’s two-hour finale last Wednesday, Butler’s guests included Lee Daniels and cast members Taraji P. Henson, who plays “Cookie,” and Gabourey Sidibe.

Butler’s successful “Empire Wednesdays” party promotion was even acknowledged by the City of Los Angeles, which presented Butler and his wife with congratulatory certificates signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. "They know who I am," Butler said of municipal officials. "They Googled me before they gave me that award."

As he eyes a business comeback--and a desired role in the “Empire” production--Butler appears optimistic about his chances. “I work in an industry that is forgiving…I didn’t rape nobody, I didn’t steal from nobody,” he said. “As long as I can bring something to the table that can make them money, that’s all they care about.”

Just months removed from the Terminal Island prison, Butler--who descibed himself as a “people person”--declared that many entertainment industry figures would not hold his narcotics trafficking against him. “A majority of people in Hollywood use drugs. So I’m not a bad guy,” he said.

After asking a reporter, “Can I get some redemption in the story?,” Butler said that, “I did something bad, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.” He added, “As long as I don’t return to selling drugs and I move on with my life, that’s all that matters, right?” (18 pages)