TAMPA, Florida (CMC) – A United States federal judge has set June 16 as the sentencing date for Jamaican Grammy Award-winning reggae star Buju Banton.
Court officials said that Judge James S Moody, Jr will preside over the sentencing of Banton, 37, whose real name is Mark Myrie. The reggae star faces up to 20 years in prison.
Last month, a 12-member federal jury found Banton guilty on three cocaine-related charges, including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilogrammes or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine.
They also found him guilty of attempting to possess five kilogrammes or more of cocaine, and for aiding and abetting others in using a communication facility in the commission of a felony.
The jury, however, did not find him guilty of knowingly and intentionally possessing a firearm in furtherance of and during the course of a drug-trafficking crime.
The singer has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, the second since a jury reached a deadlock late last year.
Banton’s attorney, David Markus, argued that the artiste never became a willing participant of the cocaine conspiracy arguing that tasting the cocaine, talking about cocaine and simply being present at the warehouse is not sufficient to find Banton guilty of the crimes.
Banton was arrested on December 10, 2009 in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting operation.
Banton‚s long-time friend, Ian Thomas, and another man, James Mack, were arrested the same day when they attempted to buy cocaine from undercover detectives in a Florida warehouse.
Thomas and Mack pleaded guilty, but Buju denied the charges.
Banton, who is in detention awaiting sentencing, thanked his fans for their support, stating: "our life and our destiny are sometimes pre-destined; and, no matter where this journey takes me, remember I fought the good fight.
"It was a great man that said my head is bloody but still unbowed I love you all thank you for your support," he said.
Banton reached the zenith of his singing career on February 13 when his album, 'Before the Dawn', was awarded the Grammy for Best Reggae Album.
Prosecutors charged Banton was the middleman in a cocaine transaction between Tampa dope dealers and a confidential informant working with the DEA.
Banton was caught on covert audio and videotape boasting about the „no-risk‰ drug deal and sampling the illicit white powder, prosecutors said.
"This is not about Buju Banton, the reggae singer. This is about Mark Myrie, the drug defendant," Assistant US Attorney James Preston said during his closing argument.
But Markus countered that the singer did not profit from the drug deal, stating that Banton was snared in the DEA probe because he is "a big talker" and was trying to impress the confidential informant, who ended up with a US$50,000 commission following the bust.
Markus said he has filed a motion in the United States District Court, Tampa Division, asking for acquittal or a new trial, and that the reggae star be released on bail.
But prosecutors said that they would be seeking to squash the defence motion since the claim is "without merit".