'Buju' stands alone

Second co-defendant signs plea bargain deal to testify against J’can reggae artiste

BY KARYL WALKER Online editor

Thursday, September 16, 2010    

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'BUJU Banton' is facing further woes after James Mack, the second co-defendant in the drug case against him yesterday signed a plea bargain deal with the United States District Attorney, agreeing to testify against the Jamaican reggae singer.

Mack's deal comes five days after another co-defendant, Ian Thomas, also agreed to give evidence against the four-time Grammy nominee whose correct name is Mark Myrie.

Banton was arrested at his home at Tamarac, South Florida hours after his two co-defendants, Ian Thomas and James Mack, were arrested during an alleged drug bust in an undercover operation at a warehouse in Sarasota, Florida in December last year.

The trial against Banton is expected to start on Monday at the Middle District Court in the Florida city of Tampa.

All three are charged with conspiracy to possess more than five kilogrammes of cocaine with intent to distribute, while Mack is facing a charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offence.

The drug charge carries a minimum sentence of 20 years to life in addition to a fine of up to US$4 million, while the firearm charge carries a sentence of five years to life and a fine of up to US$250,000.

Both Mack and Thomas, in their plea deals, have agreed to give evidence to assist the US Government in building a case against Banton, in exchange for lesser sentences.

The Observer yesterday obtained copies of the two 17-page plea agreements which bears the signatures of both men.

The documents said: "Defendant agrees to fully co-operate with the United States in the investigation and prosecution of other persons, and to testify, subject to a prosecution for perjury or making a false statement, fully and truthfully before any federal court proceeding or federal grand jury in connection with the charges in this case."

According to the allegations:

* two or more persons in some way or manner came to mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan, as charged in the indictment; and

* that the defendant, knowing the unlawful purpose of the plan, willfully joined in it.

The US Government, however, offered to drop the latter against Thomas, in exchange for his testimony.

Under US law, a plea agreement is signed between the defendant and prosecutors and has no bearing on the sentence a judge may impose, although at times judges act on the recommendation of prosecutors.

Banton has maintained his innocence and insists that he was entrapped. His lawyer, David Oscar Markus, intends to argue that the US Government paid an informant US$35,000 to snare his client.

On Tuesday, before Mack signed the plea deal, Markus expressed confidence that Banton would walk free at the end of the trial.

"This is a federal court and we are as confident as you can be in a federal court. Buju is innocent and we are hoping the jury will see through the Government's charade," Markus told the Observer.

Markus said, too, that he was not to worried about Thomas' decision to testify against the singer as part of a plea deal. "If he speaks the truth he won't hurt us," he said Tuesday.

The attorney was not available for comment yesterday.

Mack's agreement to give evidence against Banton is an about-turn on his earlier position after he signed an affidavit on Friday that he never knew Buju Banton before his arrest and that the artiste had no knowledge of the money and gun that were in his car.

Officials at the Pineolas County Jail have moved Banton to the Citrus County Jail, which is about 75 minutes north of Tampa, as the prosecution gets ready for the trial.





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