- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ATLANTA (AP) — Rapper T.I. was sentenced Friday to one year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to federal weapons charges after he tried to buy a stash of machine guns and silencers to protect himself after his best friend was killed.

The 28-year-old rapper, whose real name is Clifford Harris, will also pay a $100,000 fine as part of his sentence. He was arrested in 2007 after trying to to buy unregistered machine guns and silencers.

He pleaded guilty last March to the federal weapons charges but wasn’t sentenced until Friday as part of a deal to see if he would be successful in performing community service by speaking to youths about the pitfalls of drugs, violence and guns.

“Today, I would like to say thank you to some, and apologize to all,” the rapper told U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell Jr., who handed down the sentence.

Harris went to buy the cache after his best friend, Philant Johnson, was killed following a post-performance party in Cincinnati in 2006. A man was found guilty last year in the murder case. Harris testified in that trial that he believed the bullets fired at his entourage were meant for him.

Harris ended up trying to buy weapons from undercover federal agents in a deal that was brokered through his bodyguard. He was arrested blocks from where he was to have headlined the BET Hip-Hop Awards in Atlanta hours later.

He is supposed to report to prison sometime after May 19. He already has completed about 1,000 hours of community service and will need to complete 470 additional hours. He had faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

“Everything I learned was through trial and error,” Harris also told the judge. “I’ve learned lessons in my life to put in my music so people won’t make the same mistakes as I.”

At Friday’s hearing, former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young spoke on Harris’ behalf.

“He’s been able to do the work I’ve been trying to accomplish for so long in stopping violence in this country,” Young told the judge.

Pannell said he was pleased with Harris’ progress through his community service.

“I think this has been a great experiment,” the judge said. “I hope this experience can lead to other experiments so others won’t make the same mistake at all. I congratulate you.”

Upon his release, Harris will be on probation for three years. He also will be credited for 305 days of home detention he already has served and must serve an additional 60 days, authorities said.

Harris agreed to community service to avoid a lengthy sentence. He already has made 262 public appearances — talking to youths at community centers, churches and schools — as part of that deal.

He also has taken part in a voting campaign to urge young adults to register to vote and had an MTV reality show, “Road to Redemption” to scare teens straight, but neither of those were credited toward the community service.

Harris is known as rap’s self-proclaimed “King of the South.” Through his healthy dose of confidence, he raps about the harsh realities of a street hustler’s life.

Harris is one of the co-chief executives of Grand Hustle Records and one of Atlantic Records’ most successful artists.

His sixth album, “Paper Trail,” has sold nearly two million copies. It also charted two smash No. 1 songs, and a third with Justin Timberlake is near the top of the charts.

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