Robert Iler: Rob Schoenbaum/ZUMA Press/NewsCom
Gary Susman
April 24, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

LEGAL BRIEFS The Soprano finally sang. After months spent protesting his innocence of charges stemming from a Manhattan mugging last summer, Robert Iler changed his tune yesterday and pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor petty larceny, acknowledging that he and three friends had robbed $40 from two teenage tourists last July. The 17-year-old actor, who plays pot-smoking mob scion A.J. on ”The Sopranos,” could have spent a year behind bars, but he and prosecutors reached a plea agreement that led to a sentence of three years probation, and as a youthful offender, he will get to have his record sealed. Co-defendant Alban Selimaj, also 17, entered the same plea.

The deal came a day after Monday’s pretrial hearing in which a police officer testified that he found a still-smoking marijuana pipe and a bag of weed on Iler when he frisked him that night. Tuesday’s hearing was to determine whether the officer’s testimony was admissible evidence or, as the defense argued, should be disregarded as the product of an illegal search. Instead, however, Iler forestalled the May 6 trial with his guilty plea. Had he gone to trial, he would have faced charges of second-degree robbery and drug possession and a possible 15-year sentence.

A third defendant, 20-year-old Michael Cournede, still faces trial, as does a fourth boy, a 16-year-old who will be tried in family court. Cournede allegedly threatened the victims with a box cutter and demanded their money. At yesterday’s hearing, Iler described his role as abetting his friends in the mugging, saying, ”I intentionally aided them by being there and blocking an avenue of escape for the victims.” Iler’s lawyer, Robert Morvillo, said of Iler and Selimaj, ”They are two teenage kids who were kind of living it up on July 4 eve and they got involved in a situation they didn’t know how to handle with a 19-year-old who obviously wanted to do something deliberately wrong. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He added, ”If you actually examine what happened on the evening in question and the evidence available, [Iler] said nothing, he did nothing other than be part of the boys that surrounded the teenagers, and he received no money.”

Still, Iler’s admission contradicts his earlier statements, which had suggested that he was the victim of mistaken identity, or at worst, was down the block while the others committed the robbery. ”I never, ever would or did rob anyone in my life,” he said in the days after his arrest. He even got his TV dad, James Gandolfini, to write a letter on his behalf to the judge, saying, ”The conduct attributed to Robert in the press is contrary to the fine character that he has exhibited in other aspects of his life.” (However, he added, ”Even if the press reports are accurate, it would be unfortunate if what is at most a momentary lapse in judgment results in a criminal record that could harm Robert’s reputation and his opportunity to make a future for himself.”) After the plea, Iler’s manager said in a statement that Iler wanted ”to express his heartfelt appreciation” for support from friends, family and ”everyone at ‘The Sopranos,”’ and that Iler wanted to apologize ”for all the grief and trouble that everyone went through.”…

Kid Rock has been lassoed into a lawsuit over his 1998 hit ”Cowboy.” In a complaint filed April 16 in the U.S. Disctrict Court in Los Angeles, Microhits Music, which owns the copyright to the 1980s dance hit ”I Wanna Be a Cowboy” by Boys Don’t Cry, alleges that Kid Rock’s tune lifts a substantial portion of the plaintiff’s song. Microhits says he used to spin the older song when he was a DJ and swiped its hooks for his version, which appeared on the 7 million-selling CD ”.” Naming the rap/rocker, his co-composers, and his record label and music publisher as defendants, Microhits seeks all profits from the song and an injunction against its future distribution. Atlantic Records has not commented on the suit….

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