Over the past half decade, Fake Four Inc. has ascended the ranks, and earned a place amongst hip-hop’s elite independent labels. Led by label owner Ceschi, and having a roster that includes heavyweights such as Awol One, Open Mike Eagle, Astronautalis, Myka 9, Louis Logic, and Busdriver, Fake Four’s four fingered logo on the back of an album has come to represent quality much the same way the Def Jam, and Def Jux, logos did in the past.

All of Fake Four’s growth is in danger of coming to a screeching halt, however, as last week Ceschi was shuffled off to a prison in New Haven, CT. His 18 month sentence, only nine of which he has to serve, a result of drug charges of dubious validity.

Just days before Ceschi left to serve his sentence he sat down with RapReviews for an exclusive interview where he told the full story behind what landed him in prison, which includes a coerced confession, and officers operating by their own set of rules. Ceschi also discussed how Fake Four will be run while he’s gone, the importance of the label’s current Indiegogo campaign, and why he’d be perfectly fine with artists sending their demos to him during his incarceration.

Adam Bernard: At your most recent show in New Haven you announced that it was going to be your last time on stage for a year. What transpired that is causing you to have to take this time away from your work?

Ceschi: I’m… OK… I am going to prison, I’m about to serve an 18 month sentence somewhere in Connecticut, starting this Wednesday, the fourth (of September).

AB: What went down?

C: In December 2010 a man drove cross country with marijuana in the trunk of his car, and he was pulled over in Illinois. It seemed that he had enough pounds for a lot of people, but when he was pulled over he had my information, and he told the cops that everything was going to me. He was an acquaintance, I had met him once before, I knew him through another friend of mine. He called me about 20, 30, times, and I really wasn’t expecting him, and it was early in the morning. It was probably from seven in the morning until ten in the morning he kept calling me off the hook. Eventually my brother handed me the phone. I was still sleeping, but he handed me the phone and said, “Pick this up. This guy keeps calling. It’s annoying.” So I finally pick it up and he’s like, “Hey, I’m in town. You mind if I come by? I really gotta take a piss. I’ve been driving cross country.” I was like sure, sure, sure. I was half asleep talking to this guy. When he does knock on my door I let him in to use the restroom, and he said, “Come in my car, I got some presents.” He opened his trunk and there’s all these gift wrapped boxes, and I knew that there was marijuana (in them), but I didn’t know how much, or who it was all supposed to go to. He picked up a box of it, and he dropped it off in my garage. I have, at that point, a bunch of cops, undercover cops, run around the side of my house and put guns to my head, put me face first in the snow, yelling, “Get on the ground!”

AB: It sounds like you weren’t really aware that this guy was going to come by and drop off all this weed for your garage.

C: Yeah, I especially wasn’t aware of the amount. That’s a very important thing. I knew this guy did that stuff, and I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been a middle man in marijuana dealings before. People would come and pick things up, and pay me a little something, and tip me off, in the past, but this guy really surprised me this time. So the cops put me on the ground and I instantly say, “I demand to speak to an attorney. I need to speak to my lawyers.” I keep saying it. They bring me into my house, and my mom, and brother, and grandfather were there at the time, and that’s the worst part of what happened. Since I wasn’t expecting this guy, my whole family was at the house, and he knew my house from before, and at this point the cops kind of barge into my house and are threatening to arrest everybody, including my 98 year old grandfather who is now 100 years old.

AB: Who clearly had tons to do with this.

C: Nothing. Nothing to do with it. None of them did. The cops were threatening to arrest everybody, take the house, hooting and hollering, like wild west police officers. At this point I just continued to demand to speak to an attorney. I probably asked close to ten times. Not even ask, I’d tell them, “I need to speak to an attorney before I speak to you.” I know the drill. I know that’s the law. They refused to let me do that. They ended up saying, “We’re going to arrest your whole family, and bring you all to jail, if you want to speak to a lawyer.” I was like, “Seriously?” (The officers said) “Either we’re going to arrest all you guys and bring you to jail, or you have to give us a confession.”

AB: That’s completely illegal.

C: It’s completely illegal, but at that point I was just like, “OK, tell me what to say. Let’s do it. Get me out of here. I don’t want my family to have anything to do with this.” So I gave a very forced, and coached, confession. There was a police officer standing over me, and I kept asking, “What do you want me to write?” He knew a lot about this guy (the driver). I didn’t know that this guy had been an informant. It was running through my mind, but I had no idea. I thought maybe it was someone else I knew, maybe the police were waiting for this, I didn’t know what was happening, but they knew an awful lot about this guy, and where he was going, and things I had no idea about. At the time I still didn’t know the amount of marijuana in the car. It was still in his car. So I gave them as good as of a confession I could give them. I still didn’t think there were 110 pounds in the car, though. At the time I thought maybe maximum 50 pounds.

AB: I didn’t know you could fit that much in a car.

C: Yeah, each box had ten pounds or more in it. In the end I found out the amount on the news after I got out of jail. So the biggest piece of evidence that they had was this guy’s confession, and my confession. I didn’t have marijuana in my house, at all. I had money because I hold cash, and my mother had money because she hangs on to cash. I had gone to the casino and I was gambling a lot at that time, my brother and I played poker and blackjack, and I had won big literally the night before. So these guys seize all my assets, all my money, they take computers, and whatever else they feel like taking, and it became front page news. It became sort of like a fluff piece where “Santa Claus has been naughty this year.” They locked me up. I got out on bail the next day and went to court, hired some attorneys, Hugh Keef and Tara Knight are my attorneys, and they went all out. I’m in terrible debt because of it, but I got the best attorneys I could, and I’ve been going to court from basically December 2010 until March 2013 trying to fight this, resolve it, come up with some sort of deal. We were given a special prosecutor, and she wasn’t budging, she wanted to give me 5-10 years served.

AB: Even though this is a state where marijuana has been decriminalized?

C: Yeah, well it depends on the amount, and the amount I was being charged for was, in her eyes, worth putting me away for close to ten years over. She wouldn’t budge. To keep fighting it, and go to trial, would have been another $30 grand out of my pocket. It would have been impossible for me to catch up on the debt alone. Eventually the judge worked something out with my lawyers where I would do 18 moths. An 18 month sentence means I’ll spend about half of that in prison, because it’s my first offense, it’s non-violent, and that’s pretty much the standard, (doing) half the time, or maybe less with good behavior.

AB: Are you angry, or disappointed, by this entire situation?

C: There are so many emotions attached to this. I am stressed out, I am angry, I feel… overall I feel robbed of time, and I think these laws are gonna change soon, and I’m gonna be one of the last people to really suffer because of these laws, and the drug war. As even (Attorney General) Eric Holder said recently, it’s just a failed situation. I think a lot of these laws are changing, and unfortunately I’m in a state where it isn’t changing soon enough, and it feels really unfair. It feels so unfair, but I’m also concerned with keeping my label running, because it’s been a huge part of my life over the last five years.

AB: While you’re gone, who is going to take care of the day to day operations of Fake Four?

C: DJ Halo (Jeep Ward), he’s our label manager right now, and my brother David is going to be handling a lot more. He started the label with me, but I do the day to day, and handle finances and everything. He’s going to be doing that now. We have a friend, Tommy V (Thomas Vines), who is coming out to help, as well. We have a shipping coordinator in Clinton, CT. We have a website designer, and a partner who owns a partner label. It’s an operation, and I’m just stressed out because I can’t oversee things that I’m so used to overseeing.

AB: How in the loop is it possible for you to be when it comes to decision making for the label?

C: I’ll be out of the loop completely. I’d rather just hand it over. The thing is, we have a schedule that’s already set well into 2014, so we have to stick to that. We’ve tried to push things around as much as possible, but if we’ve already started out the process of putting out a record, we can’t stop now. Unfortunately, this legal situation is making it really difficult to continue everything as planned. That’s why I’m starting this Indiegogo thing.

AB: Tell me about the Indiegogo campaign for Fake Four. What your goals are for it, what are you offering backers?

C: Well, the goal is simple, it’s to keep Fake Four working and growing while I’m away. The other goal is to help get my story out, and tell people why I’m not around for nine months. I’m just reaching out for support to anybody who cares. It could be a fan, or friend, or somebody who cares about the situation. Mainly we need financial help to keep Fake Four Records running. Usually I’m the single financer, and everything that I make goes back into it. I’m basically calling out to the public to invest, and of course we’re offering a bunch of cool stuff. We’re offering exclusive music. We’re offering original artwork. One of the artists on Fake Four is doing portraits of people with their cats for a certain amount. A number of the artists on Fake Four are offering to record with people, like verses, or to produce songs with them, for a certain amount. I’m going to offer prison artwork, and poetry. We’re trying to make a Fake Four USB drive that’s shaped in the four fingered hand, has the logo inscribed on it, and has 50 albums. We’re approaching our 50th release, and it will have all 50 releases, which will include (a digital version of) my vinyl only release of Forgotten Forever, which is an album I’m releasing in France on vinyl only, limited to 100 copies. So those are some of the things we’re doing.

AB: After you’ve served your time, when you return home, what do you expect you’ll be walking into your first day back at Fake Four?

C: You know it depends a lot on how we do, on how this campaign goes, but I expect to come back to a record label that continued to put out good music, and I expect to come back with four new records on Fake Four out, and working, and in people’s hands. I expect to be able to work a brand new release by a band called Bike For Three!, which is Buck65 and a lady named Joelle Le (aka Greetings from Tuskan) from Belgium. I’m just gonna be ready to work and hopefully there will be no more obstacles.

AB: What will be the best part of your first day back? What are you already looking forward to?

C: Oh my God, watching the season finale of Breaking Bad {*laughs*}. I gotta do that my first day, but mainly I want to see my grandpa, and maybe get a slice of pizza at Sally’s, that would be amazing, with my girlfriend, with my mother.

AB: How many unsolicited demos do you think will accumulate in the time you’re gone?

C: {*laughs*} Oh wow, you know what, I wish they could just send them straight to my cell, because I’ll actually listen to each one of them. I assume at least a hundred.

AB: So if an artist wants to reach you during this time, the good old fashioned cassette in a Walkman might be the best way to do it.

C: I’ll have a CD player. I can buy a CD player in commissary. They allow CDs. That’s big for me.

AB: OK, so whenever you let us know what the address is to send stuff to, we’ll let the entire hip-hop community know to send demos directly to you, just so you have something to do.

C: {*laughs*} You know what, I’ll actually really appreciate that. With technology there’s a Connecticut inmate lookup, and my legal name is Julio F. Ramos, so I’ll be up there as Julio Ramos, New Haven County.

AB: It would be interesting, if we put that up, to see how many people would be bold enough to do that.

C: Yeah. Anything to help me pass my time, I’ll listen to it.

AB: In closing, do you have a message you’d like to leave your fans with?

C: We really need your help right now. It’s not really about me. This time is gonna pass quickly, but Fake Four, I know a lot of fans have supported us, and we’ve made a pretty amazing community out of what we’ve done over the last five years, let’s keep it strong, let’s keep it going, and I promise that we’re gonna keep releasing awesome music, and doing shows, and just feeding you with art for years and years to come if you can help us get over this little obstacle. Thank you to everybody.