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

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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.

First-year law students skipped class at Stetson University to watch the trial unfold, and prayer circles echoed through the courthouse corridor. Stephen Marley, who put his house on the line to spring Buju from lockup between trials, testified as a character witness that Buju is a born braggadocio, a toaster who would try to outtalk anyone, no matter the topic. Reporters on assignment from Jamaica sprinted out of the building during recess to file stories on their BlackBerrys.

Then, on the third day of the trial, Buju waived his Fifth Amendment right and sat in front of the jury to emphatically declare his innocence.

"I had no intention of doing a drug deal, from the sincerity of my heart," Buju said. "I was just talking, drinking with this guy, talking, talking because that's what he always talks about. Now I know he was doing it with a motive in mind."

He told the jury that he had never been to Venezuela, had never seen $50 million in his life, and had no idea that he was going to see cocaine when he drove out to Sarasota. He said he talked the talk but did not walk the walk. He acknowledged that the transcripts and recordings looked bad, though, and apologized repeatedly.

"I'm very ashamed of myself. I'm very ashamed of myself for behaving in that manner, and I feel like I'm receiving a public flogging, and I'm readily accepting.

"It's my faith that keep me sitting here now, 'cause I'm an innocent man," Buju said.


After closing arguments, Buju, with his manager and legal team, gathered in an empty dining room at a Courtyard Marriott. Everyone looked worn. Buju, knowing that he could be sentenced to life in prison the next morning, sneaked a stiff drink from a plastic juice bottle. He told Markus he'd better visit when all this is over — in Jamaica or jail — and reiterated his innocence. The few sips of whatever was in that bottle made his tongue loose. He started mixing metaphors, rambling about gods coming down from a mountain for a day of judgment. It was a firsthand demonstration of how little the man could drink.

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Chris Sweeney