A state appeals court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction of a Harlem rapper who is serving a 75-year term for masterminding a deadly robbery at a Fort Lee hotel six years ago.
Charly Wingate, better known in the hip-hop world as “Max B,” was convicted after Bergen County prosecutors argued during a trial that he deployed his stepbrother, Kelvin Leerdam, and his girlfriend, Gina Conway, to the Holiday Inn on Route 4 to commit the robbery.
The two targets of the robbery, David Taylor and Allan Plowden, had been seen a few days earlier in Harlem in September 2006, driving a 2007 Mercedes Benz and showing off lots of cash.
Conway, who pleaded guilty for her role and testified against Wingate and Leerdam, said she met Plowden in Harlem and that he took her to a Mahwah hotel. She said she later told Wingate that Plowden had lots of cash, and Wingate devised a robbery plan, enlisting Conway as the bait and Leerdam as the muscleman.
The next day, Plowden was staying at the Holiday Inn in Fort Lee. Conway testified that she and Leerdam went to the hotel and confronted Plowden in his room, where he was being entertained by a prostitute. When they couldn’t find any money in his room, they ordered him to call Taylor, who was in a different room, she said. Plowden called Taylor, who arrived at the room a few minutes later, only to be shot point-blank in the face by Leerdam, prosecutors said.
Conway and Leerdam fled with less than $1,000 cash, a laptop and a few other belongings. They were arrested a few days later and charged with murder, armed robbery and kidnapping. Wingate was charged as an accomplice although he was not at the scene.
Both Wingate and Leerdam were convicted in the trial, and Leerdam is now serving a sentence of life plus 35 years. Conway received a 15-year sentence as part of her plea deal.
Wingate and Leerdam appealed their conviction, alleging trial errors and prosecutorial missteps. They also argued that the trial judge erred in imposing excessive sentences.
The Superior Court Appellate Division panel, however, upheld their convictions and sentences in a detailed 52-page opinion on Thursday.