Buju Banton codefendant may testify against reggae singer
By ELAINE SILVESTRINI | The Tampa Tribune
A codefendant of Jamaican reggae singer Buju Banton has agreed to cooperate with the government as part of a plea deal in his drug case.
Banton, a four-time Grammy nominee, is set to stand trial Sept. 20 along with another codefendant, James Mack, on charges they participated in a cocaine deal in Sarasota.
The third codefendant, Ian Thomas, will plead guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 5 kilos or more of cocaine, according to an agreement filed today. The charge carries up to life in federal prison.
Eight days after the scheduled start of the trial, Banton's record company is set to release his ninth studio album, "Before the Dawn," in the United States. The album was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, before his arrest in December.
"The album's unofficial anthem, 'Innocent' strikes a highly personal chord that will resonate deeply with longtime fans," according to a press release from Gargamel Music Inc.
Banton, 37, has been held without bail since his arrest on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine and aiding and abetting his codefendants in possessing a firearm during the course of the cocaine distribution.
Still, Banton was "heavily involved" in assembling the album, "from choosing the final track listing and laboring over the phone with the producers and engineers to get the mixes just right, to conceptualizing the project's distinguished packaging," the press release states.
The album will contain "a special note written from inside the Pinellas County Jail" where Banton "has been patiently awaiting trial for the past nine months," the release states.
Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, claims he was entrapped. An informant involved with the case has been paid $3.3 million working with law enforcement over several years, including more than $35,000 in the case against Banton.
"Paying a convicted drug trafficker millions of dollars for setting up an innocent productive member of society is wrong," Banton's attorney, David Oscar Marcus, said in an e-mail to The Tampa Tribune. "The prosecution's star is laughing at all of us â€“ he doesn't pay taxes, he stopped paying the mortgage on his million dollar house, he doesn't pay his credit cards, and he gets to stay in this country even though he committed crimes here as an illegal immigrant. We're hoping the jury will see through his charade."
Although Thomas, 43, may testify against Banton, codefendant Mack has signed an affidavit on behalf of the singer.
Mack, 48, says in the affidavit that he never met Banton before his arrest, and that Banton had no knowledge of the money and gun that were in Mack's car