Government entrapped reggae star Buju Banton in drug deal, lawyer says

TAMPA — Buju Banton's attorney claims the government entrapped his client by using a paid informant to convince the reggae star to buy cocaine, according to federal court documents filed Tuesday.

The defense is pushing to have the informant's identity revealed.

"We want to know who this person was and why he was bringing this up with our client ," said Banton's attorney David Markus. "We want to know everything there is to know."

The criminal complaint submitted by Drug Enforcement Administration agents against Banton, 36, whose real name is Mark Myrie, begins on Dec. 8 when the reggae artist met with a confidential source at an undercover, police-controlled warehouse in Sarasota and was presented with a brick of cocaine.

But Markus said his client's contact with the informant began long before that incident.

Banton met the informant aboard a flight from Madrid, Spain to Miami in July 2009, according to the court documents filed Tuesday by Markus.

Banton didn't know the man who sat next to him, but the informant began chatting with Banton during the long flight. Eventually, the conversation turned to the topic of drugs.

Over the next five months, the informant called Banton many times, according to court documents. Many of the conversations were taped.

The men met for lunch at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant on July 27, 2009 when the informant "brought up the subject of cocaine."

When the informant called on Aug. 4, Banton told him to call back later. When he called the next day, Banton told him he couldn't meet because he had rehearsal with his band in New York.

The informant called Banton at least twice in September, and both times he dodged the calls. On Oct. 14, the informant called asking for two tickets to Banton's show and a backstage pass.

In early December, the informant told Banton that he needed to talk to him before an upcoming trip to Houston. "So if you come it will be different, that will change a lot of things and start things," court records quote the informant as saying.

On Dec. 8, Banton and an associate met with the man at an undercover warehouse in Sarasota where he was shown the brick of cocaine documented in the arrest report.

Over the next two days Banton's associates allegedly brokered a deal with undercover agents to purchase five kilograms of cocaine for $125,000. The men were arrested on Dec. 10 while attempting to finalize the deal. Banton was arrested at his Broward County home later that day. Batnon, is being held without bail at Pinellas County Jail.

To prove entrapment, Markus will have to show that Banton was not predisposed to engage in criminal behavior and that the government induced him.

"The fact that Mr. Myrie ultimately refused to participate in the conspiracy after the initial meeting further shows the viability of his entrapment defense," Markus said.

Banton's trial is expected to begin in March.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (813)226-3405.

Government entrapped reggae star Buju Banton in drug deal, lawyer says 01/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 6:52pm]

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