THE United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that Reggae artiste Buju Banton and two other men were arrested in an undercover operation in Florida that ran over four days and during which the deejay made an attempt to taste cocaine that they sought to buy from an undercover cop.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, along with Ian Thomas and James Mack, also called Spencer Clarke, were arrested last Thursday by federal authorities and charged with possession with intent to distribute five kilogrammes or more of cocaine.
Yesterday, the DEA released a criminal complaint signed by Special Agent Daniel McCaffrey who said that on December 8 he and agents from the DEA Tampa district office, as well as officers from the Sarasota Police Department received information from a confidential source (CS) that Buju Banton and associates “wanted to purchase kilogramme amounts of cocaine in the Sarasota area of the Middle District of Florida”.
The CS, McCaffrey said, made telephone contact with Myrie at 8:00 am on December 8 and Myrie agreed to meet with the confidential source later that day in Sarasota.
The meeting, which McCaffrey said was captured on audio recording equipment, took place at approximately 1:31 pm at the La Tropicana de Havana restaurant and was observed by other DEA officers.
According to McCaffrey, the confidential source “instructed Myrie and associates to follow the CS to an alternate location to continue negotiations about obtaining large amounts of cocaine”.
They then went to a Sarasota Police Department controlled undercover warehouse where Myrie and Thomas inspected the drugs in the presence of undercover police Sergeant Ken Castro.
That meeting, McCaffrey said, was captured on audio and video recording equipment.
Myrie and Thomas were shown a compartmentalised vehicle which contained 20 kilogrammes of cocaine.
“Thomas approached the undercover vehicle and after observing the hidden compartment, pulled one kilogramme of cocaine out of the vehicle and placed it on a nearby table for inspection,” the document stated.
“Thomas subsequently utilised a knife to cut open the noted kilogramme of cocaine and began to inspect, along with Myrie, the cocaine. Thomas subsequently handed the knife to Myrie who instantly wiped the blade of the knife with his finger and placed that finger in his mouth in what appeared to be an attempt to taste the cocaine,” the document stated.
The DEA said Myrie, the two other men and an unknown female were under surveillance after the DEA was informed a day before that they had made arrangements with the confidential source to buy the controlled substance.
Another meeting was arranged on December 9 at Applebee’s restaurant and was attended by Thomas and the CS. It was at that meeting, McCaffrey said, that Thomas informed the CS that the organisation he worked for wanted to first purchase five kilogrammes of cocaine. The CS met Mack outside the restaurant at the meeting as well.
The following day, before the deal was about to go down, the confidential source was fitted with audio and video recording equipment and followed by DEA agents to the undercover warehouse.
“Once inside the warehouse, Sergeant Castro, acting in an undercover capacity, observed Mack access a hidden compartment in the rear driver’s seat of the Honda sedan and pull out plastic bags which contained a large amount of US currency,” the document stated.
Mack is also accused of placing the wads of cash on a table before cutting open one kilogramme of cocaine which was among seven placed by the undercover agent to bait the purchase.
As he was about to inspect the drugs, the law enforcement officials signalled to others in hiding and Thomas and Mack were arrested without incident.
The agent reported that a handgun was found inside the Honda sedan which was being driven by Mack.
Buju Banton was arrested sometime later the same day at a location in South Florida.
He is tentatively scheduled to face the United States District Court in Tampa tomorrow.
He could be sentenced for up to 20 years if he is found guilty of the narcotics charge.