Defence attorneys preparing for a March start of the drug case against reggae star Buju Banton are trying to get the court to reveal the identity of a man whom they claim was a paid government informant used to convince the singer to buy cocaine.
The efforts are part of an entrapment defence which the team of lawyers is putting together.
Buju, whose real name is Mark Myrie, has been in prison since being arrested on December 10th. He is accused of conspiring to distribute five kilogrammes of cocaine and aiding and abetting his co-defendants in possessing a firearm during the course of the cocaine distribution.
In court documents filed yesterday, one of the lawyers, David Markus, asks for the criminal record of the confidential source (CS) and how much he was paid for helping in the case.
He said in the court filing that Buju did not know the man before he sat next to him on a flight from Spain to Miami in July 2009. During that plane ride, Markus said, “after softening up Mr Myrie with small talk”, the CS turned the conversation to the topic of cocaine.
"Throughout the flight, the CS tried to interest Mr Myrie in buying cocaine. Mr Myrie, however, was not interested,” Markus wrote in court documents.
"We want to know who this person was and why he was bringing this up with our client. We want to know everything there is to know."
He added that over the course of the months leading to his client’s arrest, the CS repeatedly called Buju and they actually met for lunch on July 27th. After that, the source made other calls to Buju, some of which Markus claimed his client dodged.
The attorney said the man kept pressuring the singer to sell cocaine.
"Finally, on December 8th, 2009, the CS was successful in convincing Mr Myrie to meet with him," Markus said in the documents, noting that they later met at a warehouse.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) claims to have Buju on video tasting the drugs at that location.
It’s alleged that Buju’s associates brokered a deal over the following two days and they were arrested while attempting to finalize it on December 10th. The singer himself was held by law enforcement officials later that same day at his house in Florida.
CLICK IMAGE TO READ DOCUMENT
Grammy-nominated Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton will fight a drug charge against him in Tampa instead of Miami.
Banton waived his bail hearing Wednesday in Miami federal court. His case is being prosecuted in Tampa, where he will be transferred.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff issued a temporary order of detention for the 36-year-old singer, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie.
Banton did not speak at the hearing, except to reply, "Yes, sir," to the judge's questions. Like the other 10 jail inmates waiting in the courtroom, he wore a beige jail jumpsuit over a white T-shirt, with his long dreadlocks tied up off his neck and his hands shackled in front of him.
"He believes that because the indictment was filed out of Tampa, that's where the case should be defended," Banton's attorney, Herbert E. Walker III, said after the hearing.
Banton has been in federal custody since last Thursday. He and two others are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.
Walker said the charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
A grand jury indictment also charges Banton and the others with carrying a firearm during the course of a drug trafficking crime.
According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit, Banton and two others traveled to Sarasota last week to purchase a large amount of cocaine from an undercover law enforcement officer. The DEA was tipped off by a confidential informant who agreed to wear a recording device during the drug negotiation session.
Banton's attorney said the singer is "completely innocent" of the charges against him.
"He's a very spiritual person," Walker said. "He has a lot of faith in God. He's confident he's going to be exonerated."
The husky-voiced Banton has been a major star in his native Jamaica since the early 1990s with brash dancehall music and, more recently, a traditional reggae sound. His career has been stunted in the United States because of some song lyrics that advocated violence against gay men.
Earlier this month, Banton's ninth album, "Rasta Got Soul," was nominated for a Grammy for best reggae album. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation launched an online petition protesting the nomination.
International reggae star Mark 'Buju Banton' Myrie has strongly denied any involvement in the illegal drugs trade.
Buju, who has been one of the standard bearers for reggae music for more than a decade, made the declaration through his legal representative yesterday as he prepared for his first day in court.
"My client says he is absolutely innocent of each of the allegations that the (United States) government has made," attorney-at-law Herbert E Walker III told The Gleaner late yesterday.
Defence team on the ball
Walker, who has been retained to represent Buju, said he was looking forward to the trial.
"You can tell your readers that his defence team is working night and day to protect his interest as he vigorously and vehemently denies all of the allegations," Walker added.
Buju has already spent five days in federal custody in the United States and remains in jail pending his court appearance today at a pre-trial detention hearing.
This is when the US authorities will outline more details of the allegations against him and he will get a chance to apply for bail.
Already the authorities have claimed they have audio and video footage of Buju and others making arrangements to purchase several kilograms of cocaine.
However, Walker said that will not prevent him from asking the court to release Buju on bail.
"It is a detention hearing and a sort of status update where the government will bring in all the evidence it has," he said. "It was set for last Friday, but the government was not ready to proceed as they needed more time to get their evidence together."
He noted that under US law it is the defendant who has to prove that he should be granted bail because, with the serious nature of the charge, there is what is called "a presumption of detention".
"But the fact of the matter is the court still has to make an individual determination as to whether to grant bail.
"It is our position that he should be granted bail because he is innocent and is looking forward to establish that in a court of law."
Buju is slated to appear in the US District Court in the Southern District of Florida at 10 this morning.
After today's hearing, the artiste will return to court on December 28 for a removal hearing, where the trial will be switched from the Middle District of Florida to the Southern District.
The affidavit, against Buju and his two alleged conspirators was initially filed in the Middle District.
In that affidavit, a special agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration alleged that Buju and two others knowingly and wilfully conspired to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine.
The co-accused were identified as Ian Thomas and James Mack, who were allegedly arrested in a sting operation when they attempted to buy cocaine.
A firearm was also reportedly taken from a vehicle driven by one of the men.
Buju, who was not on the scene at the time of the drug bust, was later arrested on charges of dealing in illegal drugs and could spend more than 20 years in a federal prison if he is found guilty.
Banton's attorney: Reggae star denies drug charges
MIAMI — Reggae star Buju Banton's attorney says his client "vigorously denies" charges that he tried to buy a large amount of cocaine from an undercover police officer.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Herbert E. Walker III said he looks forward to representing Banton in court, but he would not discuss the case further.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration affidavit says Banton and two others traveled to Sarasota last week to make the purchase.
Walker said Banton "vigorously denies these allegations." The Jamaican reggae singer is in federal custody in Miami.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, faces a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
The arrest of Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton on Thursday in Florida on conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute cocaine followed an investigation that sounds like an episode of the 1980s cop drama "Miami Vice."
According to the Tampa Tribune, the arrest of one of the most controversial modern reggae acts to come from the island nation in the post-Bob Marley era began with a meeting last Tuesday at a Sarasota, Florida, restaurant called La Tropicana de Havana. It was there that Banton (born Mark Anthony Myrie) allegedly pulled up in a silver Land Rover with the license plate "JAH ONE" with another man named Ian Thomas and an unidentified woman and allegedly attempted to arrange to buy several kilos of cocaine.
Police recorded the meeting, and according to the criminal complaint, a confidential source told the singer to go to a warehouse under surveillance, where they met with an undercover Sarasota police officer who showed him and the woman a car that had 20 kilos of cocaine stashed in secret compartments. Banton and Thomas allegedly sampled the drugs and negotiated the price for a few hours, then left, only to return the next day after Thomas called the source and expressed interest in buying 15 kilos of the drug.
Another meeting took place Wednesday at an Applebee's restaurant in Sarasota, where Thomas allegedly told the source his group wanted to purchase 5 kilos and possibly more at a later time. He also reportedly said another member of his crew was in the parking lot with about $125,000 in cash.
By late afternoon, Thomas and the source left the restaurant and met with a man named James Mack, who was in the driver's seat of the car and who returned to the Applebee's to continue negotiating the deal, according to the criminal complaint.
On Thursday morning, Thomas and Mack allegedly drove back to the warehouse, where an undercover Sarasota officer saw Mack pull large amounts of cash from a hidden panel in the rear driver's side of the Honda. After inspecting the cash, the undercover officer gave a bag with 7 kilos of cocaine to Thomas and Mack. Officers then gave the signal to arrest the two, while Banton was simultaneously apprehended in Miami.
All three were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and are being held with no bond. Grammy nominee Banton — whose recent U.S. tour was plagued by calls for protest from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who decry the homophobic lyrics to his 1992 song "Boom Bye Bye" — is expected to appear in a Miami courtroom later this week. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the charges. A spokesperson for the singer could not be reached for comment at press time.
GRAMMY-NOMINATED deejay Buju Banton is being held in the Federal Detention Centre, Miami, Florida, in the United States following his arrest last Thursday on drug-related charges, a Miami Police Department spokesman confirmed yesterday.
The internationally renowned artiste whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie was held with "a large quantity of cocaine", according to the law-enforcement agent who identified himself as Officer Gonzalez.
"He is here ... I can't tell you when he will go to court or anything like that, but yes, he is here facing a charge of possession and the intent to distribute cocaine," Gonzalez told The Sunday Gleaner.
He said details of the arrest and subsequent charges would be released tomorrow morning. When asked if and when bail would be offered, Gonzalez said, "I am not in a position to disclose that information."
caught on surveillance camera
The Sunday Gleaner was unable to get confirmation of the arrest from the Police High Command in Jamaica and key government sources who had "only heard rumours". This suggests that the local authorities had not been informed of Banton's arrest in the US. Currently, there is tension between the Jamaican Government and the US authorities regarding another narcotics matter.
While tight-lipped about details of the arrest, Gonzalez said that the 36-year-old entertainer had been held with "another person".
Sources say Buju and another man were caught on surveillance camera.
A search on the Federal Bureau of Prisons' website yesterday revealed that one "Mark Anthony Myrie, 36, black male" was in custody at the Federal Detention Centre in downtown Miami and listed an inmate number.
Several attempts to contact representatives of Buju's record label, Gargamel Music, were unsuccessful.
Coming off what has been described as one of his most successful, if not controversial, North American tours, Buju has been riding a string of successes, which culminated in his nomination for the prestigious Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album.
The tour, organised to promote his new album, Rasta Got Soul, was dogged by massive protests by gay and lesbian groups across the US, which said his anti-gay lyrics promoted violence against them.
Buju subsequently met with leaders of the gay community in San Francisco in an attempt to salvage the tour.
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
WITH THE catchy hit single Browning in 1992, Buju Banton commanded the attention of music lovers and, in so doing, etched a foothold on Jamaica's musical landscape.
The gifted youth silenced critics and proved he was no fluke when he stormed the entertainment arena with Black Woman in response to colour-conscious Jamaicans who frowned on Browning.
These two singles would hit a chord on the Jamaican psyche.
In so doing, Browning and Black Woman kick-started a colourful career, pockmarked by the young artiste's run-ins with the international gay-rights community, as well as the law.
Christened Mark Anthony Myrie, Buju Banton, the youngest of 15 children, was born in 1973 and grew up in Salt Lane in the Red Hills Road area.
In a community where reggae music and the sound system were dominant features, Myrie fell in love with dancehall.
A glance at his colourful career:
He adopted the pseudonym Buju Banton from another deejay, Burro Banton, whom he admired as a child.
In 1986, Buju was introduced to producer Robert French by fellow deejay Clement Irie, and his first single, The Ruler, was released not long afterwards in 1987.
In 1988, age 15, he first recorded his most controversial song, Boom Bye Bye, which took issue with homosexuality.
Largely because he was unknown, Boom Bye Bye failed to inspire until it was re-released in 1992 after he had made his mark with a range of singles, following on his two early successes. The following year was an explosive one for Buju as he broke Bob Marley's record for the highest number of number-one singles in a year.
Buju's debut album, Mr. Mention, includes his greatest hits from 1993. It was also the year when the second release of Boom Bye Bye threatened to destroy not the gays, but all he had toiled so hard to accomplish. The lyrics of Boom Bye Bye sparked outrage in the United States and Europe. This led to Buju being dropped from the line-up of the WOMAD festival that year. He survived and drastically changed his tune, largely focusing on conscious issue-oriented commentaries. Buju released the hard-hitting Voice of Jamaica in 1993 on the major Mercury label. These tracks included the commentary, Deportees, a remix of Tribal War, sharply condemning political violence and Willy, Don't Be Silly which promoted safe sex, profits from which were donated to a charity supporting children with AIDS. As his career progressed, many of Buju's lyrics sought to combat the scourge of violence. Murderer condemned gun violence and frontally challenged the prevailing lyrical content in dancehall. As he matured and his transformation continued, Buju Banton embraced the Rastafari movement and growing dreadlocks, his music assumed a spiritual tone. When Buju Banton toured Europe and Japan, in 1994, the shows were sold out, a testimony to his rising popularity, despite the deafening anti-gay sentiments, which continued to flourish in the United States.
His album Til Shiloh in 1995 successfully blended conscious lyrics with a hard-hitting dancehall vibe.
The album included earlier singles, such as Murderer, and Untold Stories.
Untold Stories revealed an entirely different Buju from the one that had stormed to dancehall stardom four years before. It is regarded by many as some of his best work, and is a staple in the Banton performance repertoire. In March 2003, Buju released Friends for Life, which featured more sharply political commentaries. These include Mr. Nine, an anti-gun song that further verified his status as one of reggae's most socially aware artistes. In April 2004, Buju was fined the equivalent of US$9,000 for drug possession and cultivation of cannabis after two mature marijuana plants were discovered growing at his studio in December 2003. Buju was also in trouble with the law in connection with a 2004 incident in which he, as part of a group of about a dozen people, was accused of beating six men believed to be homosexuals. Charges against Buju were dismissed by the judge in the case in January 2006 for lack of evidence. The year 2006 saw the release of the critically acclaimed Too Bad, his first dancehall-oriented album in over a decade. Buju showed in 2007 that he still had what it took to be at the top of the dancehall game with Driver A, a massive hit that year.
Despite the passage of time and Buju's obvious transformation, refelcted in his musical lyrics, he has never been forgiven by the gay community for Boom Bye Bye, which was released when he was a mere lad of 15 and re-released when he was 18.
The refusal of Buju Banton to bow to the demands of gay-rights activists earlier this year has not helped.