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‘Dudus’ in NY court today

Former Tivoli don’s extradition ends ten-month drama

BY PAUL HENRY Observer staff reporter henryp@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, June 25, 2010    

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UNITED States law enforcement agents yesterday afternoon delivered former Tivoli Gardens don Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke to authorities in New York where he is expected to be arraigned in a Manhattan Federal court today on drug- and gun-trafficking charges.

Late yesterday evening, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara issued a news release saying that Coke was now in that city “to face charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms”.

Coke, who yesterday morning waived his right to an extradition trial, was flown out of the country just after 2:00 pm on a waiting US Marshals Service jet, closing perhaps the 10 most dramatic months in Jamaica’s history which brought the Government close to collapse, damaged diplomatic relations with the United States, left more than 70 people dead and hurt the island’s image as a tourist destination.

Following yesterday’s hearing at a special court held under iron-clad security at the Mobile Reserve along Camp Road in Kingston, Coke issued a statement through one of his lawyers, Tom Tavares-Finson, in which he said that his decision to forego an extradition trial was in the best interest of Jamaica.

“I take this decision for I now believe it to be in the best interest of my family, the community of West Kingston and in particular the people of Tivoli and, above all, Jamaica,” Coke said in a two-page typewritten statement. “I leave Jamaica and my family, in particular Patsy [mother Pauline Halliburton], with a heavy heart, but fully confident that in due course I will be vindicated and returned to them.”

If Coke is saddened by his departure from his family, more reasons for anxiety were pressed upon him, as immediately after his 15-minute hearing before Resident Magistrate Georgianna Fraser, he was slapped with an Order of Restraint authorising the State to seize his assets, estimated to be worth several million dollars.

By waiving his right to an extradition hearing, Coke — who is said to be fearful of spending time in prison out of concern that he may meet the same fate as his father Lester, who died in a mysterious fire at the General Penitentiary while awaiting extradition to the US in 1992 — has headed off what could have been a timeconsuming and expensive process.

At 9:55 yesterday morning, Coke, a short, stocky man with receding hairline and a balding scalp, was escorted by three towering members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force into the small blue and white wooden structure where the hearing took place.

Dressed in a blue and white striped shirt, Clarks shoes and grey jeans, a gold chain, white undershirt and leather-strap watch, Coke, who was allowed to walk freely without being cuffed, glanced at reporters and nodded his head while making his way to his seat — just minutes before Court was called to order.

Coke’s lawyers — Tavares-Finson and George Soutar — arrived late, prompting RM Fraser to query whether or not he had legal representation.

“Mr Coke, please stand,” Fraser beckoned. “Do you have counsel representing you in this matter?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Coke replied in a soft tone, after snapping from his seat.

“Who?” Fraser asked.

“Mr Soutar,” replied Coke, who appeared humbled.

The lawyers arrived immediately after Coke gave his answer and following an apology, Soutar indicated that Coke wished to waive his right to an extradition trial, prompting the magistrate to ask Coke if this was his desire. “Yes, ma’am,” Coke answered.

Coke was then told by RM Fraser that he had the right to fight his extradition and that he was also within his right to forego that trial. Fraser also informed Coke that he would be tried in the US and outlined the charges to him, while asking if he understood the implication of his decision and if he wanted to be extradited.

“Yes, ma’am,” Coke answered in a still soft tone.

Coke was then given a consent form to which he affixed his signature, in the presence of Tavares-Finson and under the gaze of two police officers. Before starting the process, which lasted five minutes, Coke for a second time glanced at reporters covering the proceedings.

Coke was then turned over to the police for extradition after Fraser read out the nature of the charges he will face in the United States.

Shortly before the proceedings came to an end Coke, through Tavares-Finson, thanked the police and members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) for the dignified way in which he was treated. Immediately after the proceedings at 10:15 Coke, who appeared resigned to his fate, was taken away in a dark-tinted blue vehicle, flanked by heavily armed masked security personnel on foot.

“This is what he wanted to do,” Soutar told the Observer when asked about Coke’s demeanour.

Attending the hearing were senior members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and US Marshals personnel. The hearing was not open to the general public and was held at the Mobile Reserve out of security concerns.

In his statement, Coke asked for prayers from Jamaicans and expressed confidence that he would be exonerated when his matter comes up for trial in New York. If convicted, Coke could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Coke had been on the run since May 24 when members of the security forces invaded his heavily barricaded former stronghold of Tivoli Gardens to serve an arrest warrant on him and restore law and order after coming under unprovoked attacks from rampaging gunmen, who had torched two police stations in Kingston and killed two police officers. A section of the Coronation Market was also torched.

A soldier was shot and killed during the Tivoli Gardens incursion and some 73 civilians killed. More than 50 civilians and members of the security forces were shot and injured.

Coke was apprehended along the Mandela Highway in St Catherine in the company of the Rev Al Miller on Tuesday. Miller said he was accompanying Coke to the US Embassy in Liguanea, where the fugitive wanted to turn himself in to US authorities.

In his statement yesterday, Coke expressed some penitence over those killed in the upheaval, that closed down the business district of downtown Kingston, racking up losses of over $100 million and counting.

“Above all, I am deeply upset and saddened by the unnecessary loss of lives which could have been avoided, be it of members of the security forces and over... 80 residents of Tivoli, or any other innocent Jamaicans that has occurred during this time,” Coke said in his statement.

Tavares-Finson said yesterday that Coke would have been flown off the island by 3:00. But by 1:33 he was landing at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston in a JDF helicopter, accompanied by two US Marshals who had been in the island prior to yesterday.

Amid tight security and a light drizzle, Coke was ushered into a building, where he changed into a blue jump-suit and was shackled with chains before being taken onto the jet. Local security officials said that other US Marshals were on the jet.

By 2:05 pm, the jet was airborne, and heading for the US.

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