Feb 16, 2011

Buju's War


Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
Tampa, Florida

Buju Banton whispers to his attorney David Oscar Markus as the two leave United States Middle District Court, Florida Division, in Tampa yesterday. - photo by daraine luton

Reggae superstar Buju Banton, who is preparing to take the stand in his defence, has declared he is "at war" and is vowing to keep "fighting" the drug charges against him.

The 37-year-old singer, who is on trial at the United States Middle District Court, Florida Division in Tampa, whispered in his attorney David Oscar Markus's ear as they walked from court and then declared aloud, "Mi just a remind you, because mi know seh yuh a go in di war room."

At the end of proceedings yesterday, Alexander Johnson, the informant called by the United States government to testify, was on the stand. The US government has alleged that Buju, whose real name is Mark Myrie, was a broker in a major drug deal.

Jim Preston, who is leading the government's case, has said Buju, through his long-time friend Ian Thomas, conspired to buy more than seven kilograms of cocaine from undercover law-enforcement agents. The drug was sourced by Johnson and was intended to be sold to two drug barons in Georgia named Ike and Tyke.

Markus, though, painted Johnson as a greedy, bankrupt man who exploited Buju's friendship in order to set him up. Johnson has admitted, under cross-examination from Markus, that although Buju appeared to be avoiding his calls, he had a bigger motivation to get the reggae superstar to talk about cocaine deals.

"If he does not take the calls, I call him … . That is what I do," he said.

Johnson, who would still be behind bars had it not been for a plea deal he struck two and a half years into his 21-year sentence for cocaine trafficking, has made US$3.3 million from being an informant. He has so far made more than US$50,000 in the Buju case and has admitted that being an informer earns him more money than drug trafficking.

"This is what I do," he insisted on the stand.

Asked why he continued calling Buju after the singer shunned his invitations for a meeting for five months between July and November 2009, Johnson said he did not get any instructions from the Drug Enforcement Administration that the case was over.

He said when he was unable to pin down Buju for appointments to discuss drug deals, "I said I would leave him alone for a while."

Johnson also noted that, since the case was still open, he had to keep pursuing it until he was told to stop.

Contradicting himself

Meanwhile, Johnson appeared to have contradicted himself on the stand when he spoke about how cocaine-related conversations first took place while both were seated in the business-class section of a flight from Madrid, Spain, to Miami.

Only hours after telling Preston that it was Buju who brought up the conversation about cocaine, Johnson, under cross-examination from Markus, changed his story.

During examination in chief from Preston, Johnson said Buju brought up the issue of cocaine when he found out that he was a Colombian.

"After he learnt that I was Colombian, he moved on to have his own idea that I was involved in drug trafficking," Johnson said.

However, under cross-examination, Johnson said he was the one who told Buju that he knew a Jamaican who was involved in drug trafficking and Buju said the man was a snitch.

Markus pointed out that on every occasion that the matter of cocaine came up, it was Johnson who raised it. He also stressed to the jury that Buju has not been charged with tasting cocaine, an act he was video-recorded doing in a warehouse.

On the way to the warehouse on December 8, two days before Buju was arrested, the superstar thanked the informer for setting up the deal.

"You have given me the opportunity to make myself again," Buju said to Johnson in an audio recording.

He complained to the informant that he did not make any money on his last tour and that gay-rights organisation, The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, "is trying to run me under".


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