Reggae Great Buju Banton Is Locked Up on Drug Charges. Was He Entrapped?

Over the weeklong retrial, Preston teased out details trying to prove that Buju was a legitimate player in the international drug trade. He showed jurors the grainy, green-tinged surveillance video of Buju dabbing his tongue with government-issued cocaine at the Sarasota warehouse and played tape recordings of his slurred drug talk. He labeled Buju a broker who expected to get a cut of the money from whatever deal Ian Thomas and Alex Johnson reached.

But Buju and his defense attorney swore the singer was just a boaster who talked a good game. Markus set out to destroy the credibility of the government's star witness, Alex Johnson. For that, he had plenty of ammunition.

Johnson was born in Colombia in October 1949. "This con artist, Alexander Johnson, imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into this country in the '80s and '90s. Not a little here, a little there. Thousands," Markus explained to the jury in his opening statement.

Buju's mug shot after he was arrested at his Tamarac duplex in December 2009.
United States Marshals Service
Buju's mug shot after he was arrested at his Tamarac duplex in December 2009.
Buju and his Miami-based attorney, David Oscar Markus.
Courtesy of David Oscar Markus
Buju and his Miami-based attorney, David Oscar Markus.

At the time, Johnson operated under the street name "El Gordo" and worked as a transporter for the Colombian cartels. Then, in 1993, U.S. authorities arrested him while he was trying to import 700 kilos. Facing life in prison and overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Johnson decided to cooperate. He was able to get the sentence reduced to 20 years, but that was still too long for his liking. So he pointed his finger at others and got another ten years knocked off. Then, after serving fewer than three years, Johnson convinced the feds that he would be of greater use on the outside. He walked from prison in 1996, getting his probation waived in the process. Johnson was a free man with a new job title: confidential informant.

He has excelled as a CI, working for the DEA, the FBI, and other national and local law enforcement agencies. Johnson isn't paid a salary for this gig; rather, he gets a cut of the money seized in the busts he arranges. It's like a commission, and he has earned nearly $3.5 million in commission — enough to buy a plush home with a swimming pool for $890,000 within a secured, gated community in Davie.

"Now, you will hear when people make money and when they work, they pay taxes. Not Alex Johnson... He owes almost $200,000 to the IRS," Markus said to the jury. "Alex Johnson isn't going to pay the IRS, isn't going to pay his mortgage, isn't going to pay his credit cards. You know what Alex Johnson did? Filed for bankruptcy last year."

Markus noted that the snitch earned $50,000 for the Buju bust. He then revealed that Johnson isn't a U.S. citizen and will never be one. Immigration and Customs Enforcement permanently barred him from obtaining citizenship because of his felony conviction. But he can't go back to Colombia because of a potential bounty on his head for snitching, so he got the DEA to request that ICE not deport him. Unless he keeps bringing in cases, there's little incentive for ICE to keep good on its favor.

Markus isn't the first to uncover these flaws. About a decade ago, Johnson had set up a young man by the name of Andrew W. Smith on a cocaine deal. Smith did not fight the accusations. In a lengthy sentencing hearing, the judge on the case, Ann Aldrich, blasted the government's reliance on Johnson.

"The court found Mr. Johnson's testimony not to be entirely truthful based upon Mr. Johnson's extensive criminal history, his career of defrauding others, his financial incentives to provide testimony favorable to the government, and his demeanor during his testimony," Aldrich said. "In fact, the jury declined to believe Johnson's testimony that Mr. Smith possessed cocaine. The court, like the jury in this case, has no reason to take Mr. Johnson's word over Mr. Smith's."

In Buju's case, the judge blocked this tidbit from entering his courtroom. The jury would also never learn that the prosecutor and the informant have been working together for at least a decade and have never lost a case. (Prosecutors did not respond to interview requests for this article.)

In court, Johnson wore a tan-on-tan suit. He incessantly stroked his chin and cleared his throat, keeping his answers as short as possible.

"You made more as a confidential informant than you did as a drug trafficker, right?" Markus asked.

"Yes," Johnson said.

"You wanted [Buju] to have another glass of wine, didn't you?" Markus asked, discussing the meeting at Bova Prime.

"Yes," Johnson said.

"Why?" Markus pressed in a biting tone.

"It's part of the game I'm playing there," Johnson said.

"This isn't a game, is it? This is a man's life," Markus wailed, sparking murmurs throughout the courtroom.

When DEA Special Agent Dan McCaffrey took the stand, he acknowledged that the agency never produced a single piece of evidence to prove Buju's boasts that he had previously moved drugs from Venezuela or invested in coke deals. In fact, the government did not bother to search his home, bank accounts, computers, or text messages after arresting him. McCaffrey also explained that getting Buju into the warehouse without ever mentioning that he would be seeing kilos was a strategic move called a "flash show" that's used to mitigate the chances of snitches getting robbed.

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23 comments
juanitajefferson31
juanitajefferson31

I hope you get out soon to come rock concert in new orleans i love you buju im supporting you.

pheelingphine
pheelingphine

And what most of you don't understand,is that Buju is from a completely different culture then in the US,also in the Rastafarian Religion Homosexuality is the worst thing.When he wrote "Boom Boom" he was like 17 and there had been a horrific crime committed against a child,he was brutally raped and murdered by a man,and Buju was angry over that specific case when he wrote that song,and has paid dearly for it in the entertainment industry.  

Duncan 23
Duncan 23

It seems obvious to me that the government or an official in it really wanted Buju Arrested. There methods seem vindictive. It reminds me of Hoover actively seeking to find dirt on Malcom Z and Martin Luther King in attempt to nullify their influence and standing in the communities that they served.

God's Gay-lesbian Children
God's Gay-lesbian Children

This article is shameful.It's clear that the writer is a huge fan of Buju's and has a man-crush on him.  Whatever.

Buju never apologized for calling for the death, torture and mutilation of god's gay-lesbian children.  His management claims he did, because they know how shameful what he did was.  But he has not, which is why there is no link, no video, no audio of the apology. 

Nor has he apologized for the way that his song has become a global symbol of hatred and violence against innocent gay people.  If Buju were a man, he would own up to what he did, and actually apologize.

Buju is in jail because of karma--he is making amends for the hurt and pain his music has sowed, including for the song that defines his legacy, Boom ByeBye.  I believe in redemption, but he played the song as recently as 2006, so he has to repent before he can be redeemed.

Chris_SLOB_BOY
Chris_SLOB_BOY

Of course it's entrapment ! Dude's never smoked a single joint in his life, probably doesn't even know what drugs are.

Mark A. Kam Holford
Mark A. Kam Holford

Idiot should have accepted the two year deal that he was offered as a plea bargain.

Mark A. Kam Holford
Mark A. Kam Holford

You can bet this was not the first cocaine deal that BB was involved in. 

Alan
Alan

Buju Banton is a murderous homophobe. I hope he rots in prison.

FQS9000
FQS9000

A classic case of too many Feds with too much money desperately seeking an easy conviction to justify their fat paychecks.

The root cause here is too many taxes and too many bureaucrats.   

oOBlackHandOo
oOBlackHandOo

I don't know if he was and I don't care.... I can't wait to read the headline where he is dead.

1_Lovely_1
1_Lovely_1

He did clear up any misconceptions about the song and stated that it should not be taken literally. The problem here is that the groups opposing Buju wanted him to put up money and go against his beliefs. How is donating money to your cause going to help people change their beliefs on the issue? It seemed greedy and baseless to me, but I digress.

You are not a supporter of Buju, but there are many people who love and respect Buju because he's a legend and 'Boom Bye Bye' is only a brief snapshot in the career of this man. He has made countless songs uplifting the poor and ghetto people, but foreigners only want to focus on the negative and that's sad.

1_Lovely_1
1_Lovely_1

He either was innocent or really felt as though he could win (which is what almost happened in the first trial). In retrospect that would have been better for him, but everyone knows that the system throws plea bargaining at innocent people and offenders as a means of getting out of doing their job.

Magickstikk7
Magickstikk7

u must be a homo, how you hope someone rote in hell when they were not convicted yet. I think your GAY

sprecks
sprecks

So because he don't like people like you who mix their dick with shit, he should be in prison? Since when does a persons dislikes equate to a crime worthy of imprisonment? You are an idiot.

Guest
Guest

 Well, yeah, God is just, which is why she has put buju behind bars.

A_lewis2904
A_lewis2904

For the Gay ones that oppose Buju.....don't hate.  He has done you no wrong.  He is a man just as any of us and he was wronged by the Government that we follow.  Judge a man from his first breath, to his last.  One song doesn't make him an evil person.  Just to clear the air, i'm not a homophobic person.  It's your choice.  Just treat the situation like you would if he was a friend or family member.

Mark A. Kam Holford
Mark A. Kam Holford

He isn't in jail for incitement to murder. He is in jail because he was heavily involved in drugs trafficking.

oOBlackHandOo
oOBlackHandOo

 I got some bad news for you, sunshine... Hair lip hell and half of Georgia, there aint' a chance of that ghetto trash being in my family or friend...

1_Lovely_1
1_Lovely_1

There is no concrete evidence that he was 'heavily involved' in drug trafficking. The issue here is that his so-called betheren said whatever to get a lesser sentence and the government sent their paid informant to make sure Buju got locked up for drugs any way possible.

1_Lovely_1
1_Lovely_1

Be careful what you wish for others b/c it will most likely happen to you first and it will be ten times worse.

 
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