YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Mendeecees Harris manipulated a girl in her mid-teens into having sex with him on a regular basis in his Lodi home, a prosecutor told jurors in Hackensack today during opening arguments in the former “Love & Hip Hop” star’s rape trial.
“We call it taking candy from a baby,” Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Demetra Maurice said.
“An adult like Mendeecee Harris can easily manipulate a child into doing things like performing oral sex – with words, with actions and later, with money,” Maurice said, as Harris, his girlfriend — fellow “Love & Hip Hop” celebrity Yandy Smith — and other family members and friends looked on.
Defense attorney Brian Neary, in turn, said the incidents “never happened” and that the girl concocted the story “so she would be able to stay in New Jersey.”
“She was going to be sent back down south to live with her father,” Neary told the jurors.
He promised them they’d see that when the girl herself testifies in the trial.
“Her claims are so unplausible, so unbelievable, as to cast doubt on what she says,” the defense attorney added. “The prosecutor has put all the evidence simply on the girl’s word. It is only her say-so.
“She knows that Mendeecee Harris has some celebrity.”
(So does Smith: A entourage escorted her into the courtroom and moved with her during breaks — with some holding coats over her face to block photographers. One member of the group even followed a CLIFFVIEW PILOT reporter/photographer upstairs and around a corner when she sat down to write.)
Harris had been free on bail pending the trial. But he has been in the Bergen County Jail since his arrest last week on drug charges out of Rochester, N.Y.
A federal grand jury there has indicted him and two other men on charges of trafficking $2.5 million worth of heroin and cocaine. The government is expected to bring that case against him once the trial that begins tomorrow in Hackensack is over.
The indictment stems from a raid last summer at the home that Harris shared with Smith, a fellow promoter who brought him onto the “Love & Hip Hop” program. VH1 last month dropped both of them from the popular reality show.
The 5-foot-7-inch Harris, who fathered a child with Smith, owns Beat Factory studio in The Bronx and manages several New York City-based rappers, according to the biography.
During a status conference last week, DeAvila-Silbebi asked Harris whether he’d accept a flat five-year prison sentence offered by prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea.
He refused, setting the stage for the trial. Jury selection was completed last month.
If convicted of the charges, Harris would face up to 20 years in prison.
Harris faces seven counts of committing sexual acts with the girl, including giving her money as an inducement, Maurice told the jury, outlining a “very skillful manipulation” of a young girl who “had had a bit of a rough upbringing.”
Some of the incidents occurred while the youngster was still 15 and others after her 16th birthday, when Harris was more than four years older – the standard in New Jersey for statutory rape.
Neary called the incidents fabrications.
“He never walked in and found her without a towel, he never asked her for sexual favors and never, ever offered her money,” Neary said.
The teen “had her own problems” the day she reported the alleged relationship, he contended: “She broke curfew, she went to New York and got a piercing her mother didn’t approve of.“
Harris and his girlfriend, a real estate agent, were living in his house in Lodi with her two pre-teen boys and a baby son of his from another woman, when the alleged relationship began in 2009, Maurice said.
The girl was 15 when she moved in with them that summer, the prosecutor told jurors.
Because of work schedules, she said, Harris ordinarily was home with her and the boys.
Taking advantage of this time, he began what Maurice described as a slow manipulation by “showing her pornography on the computer” and asking for oral sex. When she refused, she said, he asked her to tell him sexy stories.
Things progressed from there, Maurice contended: Harris began giving the girl spending money while asking for sex. When the boys asked for money, she said, he told them: “Go talk to your sister. She knows what she has to do.”
Prior to the opening arguments, Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi barred from evidence a number of photographs that Neary wanted to introduce, arguing that they would affect the jury’s assessement of her credibility.
The judge, in turn, said the state’s rape shield law prohibited them.
Jurors will “rely on their collective knowledge of the evidence,” including the girl’s testimony and demeanor on the stand, in assessing her credibility, she said.
“We’re not going to have a character assassination of the victim,” DeAvila-Silebbi added.
The judge reserved judgment on another set of photos presented by Neary, saying she would rule on them if the girl’s mother testifies in the trial.
Testimony in the trial followed this afternoon and will continue tomorrow.
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia (NO RE-USE WITHOUT PERMISSION)