US ATF agents arrest rapper T I on gun charge

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ATLANTA, Oct 14 (Reuters) Federal agents arrested leading US rapper T I on charges of buying illegal machine guns, hours before he was due to star at a major hip hop awards ceremony.

Agents from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) yesterday said they arrested the rapper at his home in southwest Atlanta as he took delivery of three machine guns and two silencers.

''This convicted felon allegedly was trying to add several machine guns to an already large and entirely illegal arsenal of guns,'' David E Nahmias, US Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said in a statement.

''Thanks to the good and quick work of ATF, he is now in custody and his firearms have been seized,'' Nahmias said.

T I was convicted of a violation of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act in 1998 and given seven years probation, the Department of Justice said.

It is a federal offense for a convicted felon to purchase firearms on their behalf, Justice said.

T I, born Clifford Harris, was arrested at 1430 hrs (0000 ist) EDT (1830 GMT), the day he was due to perform at the BET Networks awards ceremony in Atlanta.

He had been nominated for nine awards at the annual show -more than any other artist. They included the prestigious MVP award for the best artist in the business as well as best CD of the year and best lyricist of the year.

His failure to appear overshadowed one of the biggest events on the hip hop calendar and disappointed hundreds of fans who turned up to watch the elite of the hip hop industry.

Many fans said they wanted to catch a glimpse of T I more than any other star.

T I spent two weeks at No 1 on the US pop chart this summer with his album ''T I vs T I P,'' his second chart topper within 18 months. The album sold 468,000 units in its first week, making it one of the biggest debuts of the year.

The 27-year-old Atlanta native, who won two Grammy awards in February and was nominated for two others, is also co-CEO of Grand Hustle Records.

T I was arrested after an undercover operation by ATF agents that started on October. 2 when ATF agents learned an individual was seeking to buy machine guns without registering them, the Justice Department said in a statement.

That individual, who turned out to be a bodyguard for the artist, was arrested on Wednesday after paying 2,200 dollars for three machine guns, two silencers and a pistol.

He said he was buying the guns for T I, and with the blessing of ATF agents arranged to deliver them to T I's house on Saturday.

''Harris (T I) then agreed to meet and took possession of the machine guns this afternoon. He now faces serious federal charges and a potentially long prison sentence,'' the statement said, adding that T I would appear in court on Monday.

Three other firearms were found in the vehicle T I was driving and during a search of his home in College Park six other firearms were found a bedroom closet.

REUTERS ARB RK0930

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