CaribWorldNews, TAMPA, FL, Tues. Sept. 21, 2010: Attorney for Jamaican-born reggae star, Mark `Buju Banton` Myrie, yesterday insisted his client is innocent of any participation in a conspiracy to sell cocaine, even though he said things to an informant about drug deals.
Attorney David Oscar Markus made the statement to jurors gathered on the opening day of the federal drug trial of the Grammy nominated singer who has been jailed since last December.
Prosecutors for their part told the jury that Banton used his finger to taste cocaine from a package in a Sarasota warehouse in December. But Markus said it was the worst mistake of the singer`s life.
`Yes, Buju talked a lot,` Markus said. `Yes, he tasted that cocaine. No, he wasn`t a drug dealer. He wasn`t part of the deal.`
A federal prosecutor, however, quoted extensively from recordings of conversations between the singer and the informant, Alexander Johnson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston said d that Banton was an established drug trafficker by the time he met Johnson.
`Do you have any contacts where I can get cocaine?` Banton said, according to Preston. He told jurors that Banton was looking for, `more, new and different money through a new conspiracy he was shopping for` in addition to drug deals he already had financed.
Banton, 37, faces charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine and aiding and abetting his co-defendants in possessing a firearm during the course of the cocaine distribution.
According to the indictment, Banton and an associate negotiated with an informant to buy the cocaine. Along with a third man, they allegedly met with an undercover officer in Sarasota in early December to buy the drugs. The informant told Drug Enforcement Administration agents that he also saw the singer inspecting the cocaine.
Ian Thomas, described by Banton`s manager as an old friend of the singer who resurfaced shortly before the arrest, pleaded guilty last Wednesday to conspiracy to posses with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine. He now faces up to life in prison.
The third man, James Mack, has signed an affidavit stating that he never met Banton before his arrest, and that the singer did not know about the money or a gun that were in Mack`s car during the drug deal. Mack plans to plead guilty to the drug conspiracy charge and a weapons charge, according to a plea agreement filed Wednesday. He also faces up to life in prison on each charge.
Both men agreed to testify for the prosecution as part of their plea agreements. Banton`s attorney has requested Mack as a witness as well.
Banton`s defense team will try to prove the singer was a victim of entrapment.
Despite being imprisoned, Banton is set to release his tenth album titled `Before the Dawn,` next week. On the album, the singer addresses his arrest singing: `I`ve been accused, wrongly convicted. Jah knows I`m innocent. I`ve been badly singled out by beloved friends … who sold me out.`
Banton had begun recording the album`s 10 songs last year in Kingston, Jamaica and worked in recent month with producers and engineers over the phone.