TAMPA — Grammy-winning reggae singer Buju Banton told a jury Wednesday that he's never been a drug dealer and that he was "just talking" to a government informant about a possible drug deal.
"I know it looks bad. I know it sounds bad. But I was not part of any drug deal," Banton told the court.
The Jamaican star testified in federal court in Tampa that the informant — Alexander Johnson — badgered him after they met on a trans-Atlantic flight in 2009 and insisted that they meet to set up a cocaine buy.
Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie, said that he was so uninterested in Johnson's proposals that after they met twice, Banton didn't return the man's phone calls for months.
"He did everything he could to lure me in," Banton said about Johnson, who admittedly made $50,000 from the government after Banton's arrest.
Banton is on trial on four cocaine-related charges — including conspiracy with intent to possess and distribute — for the second time. The jury deadlocked in his first trial. If convicted, Banton could get life in prison.
Prosecutors admit Banton never put any money into any drug deal and did not make any money.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents recorded Banton inspecting cocaine and tasting the drugs with his finger, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Preston said. His co-defendant, Ian Thomas, gave the undercover officer $135,000. He has since pleaded guilty to drug charges. Another co-defendant, James Mack, also pleaded guilty.
Banton testified that the first time he heard of Mack was when he was in the Pinellas County Jail.
Preston said the 37-year-old singer went out of his way to portray himself as a drug financier.
"You gave (the informant) every reason to believe you were a player in the cocaine game," Preston said.
Banton shot back: "We were both trying to impress each other. I was just making things up. I was just talking … I talk too much."