Recordings from a recent federal court hearing that resulted in bounce rapper Big Freedia being ordered to a halfway house provide a window into the entertainer’s drug use, as well as a judge’s intolerance for her failure to adhere to conditions of her bail.
A national sensation for helping to popularize the bounce genre and twerking, Big Freedia got no special treatment in U.S. District Judge Lance Africk’s courtroom Wednesday.
Africk had issued an arrest warrant for the 38-year-old artist, born Freddie Ross Jr., after she tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine use. During the hearing, he repeatedly chided Big Freedia for putting herself at risk ahead of an Aug. 11 sentencing for theft of Section 8 housing voucher money.
“This is the worst possible time for you to do this,” Africk said. “You could be sentenced to prison. … Honestly, this could work out very poorly for you.”
Big Freedia, who also stars in the reality TV show “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce,” pleaded guilty to the theft of nearly $35,000 in federal funds in March and faces a maximum 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine.
Much of the hourlong hearing centered around her three positive drug tests. The most contentious issue was a June 21 test in which the star’s results came back positive for both marijuana and methamphetamine.
Bounce musician Big Freedia must live in a halfway house and submit to substance abuse testi…
Big Freedia’s probation officer, Tara Sawicki, said the performer offered shifting explanations for the meth. At first, Big Freedia said a Dallas promoter had told her she was taking Valium. Then she said she believed she actually was given Adderall.
But drug experts told the probation officer that neither prescription medication should have yielded a positive meth result.
“Quite frankly, I have a very big question about whether you’ve been candid and truthful with U.S. Probation,” Africk said. “The story changes. First it’s Valium, then it’s Adderall.”
When Big Freedia tried to interject with an apology, Africk briskly cut her off.
“This is not your stage; this is a federal courthouse. So hold off,” the judge said. “I don’t know if you think there’s a separate rule for Big Freedia, because you’re an entertainer, but let me assure you that there’s not.”
Africk drilled down in an attempt to get the promoter’s name, which Big Freedia said she did not know. Then, after being sworn in for testimony, she changed her story again.
This time, she said she was given a pill, which she believed was Ecstasy, by an unknown fan in the crowd.
“Why did you lie to me before?” an indignant Africk asked. “Why did you lie to me about where you got the pill?”
Big Freedia said she lied to the probation officer under stress, then repeated it again to the judge. She also cited stress from caring for her uncle, a double-amputee in ill health, as a reason for her marijuana habit.
“I do have a problem with marijuana,” Big Freedia said.
Africk turned to federal prosecutors for their opinion on what to do about the star’s bond violations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg said the government believes that her touring life, and the temptations it carries, may be behind the positive drug tests.
“Being in a situation where he’s more or less unchecked in a celebratory atmosphere, an entertainment atmosphere, could pose great problems insofar as his future compliance with any terms of release,” Ginsberg said, referring to the entertainer as a man. Big Freedia has said she prefers being addressed as a woman.
Africk agreed, ordering Big Freedia to live in a halfway house and leave only with the approval of a probation officer. The musician also will need to submit to a drug treatment evaluation.
The effects of the court case on Big Freedia’s touring schedule are unclear. The judge said he recognized that she needs to perform shows to earn money, but he said she would be able to do so only with the approval of her probation officer.
Representatives for nightclubs in Las Vegas and Los Angeles where Big Freedia is scheduled to perform next week did not return requests for comment.