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Jamaican 'drug lord' to make first appearance in US court

Suspected Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke was expected to enter his plea to drugs and arms trafficking charges in a US federal court on Friday. If convicted, Coke faces life in prison.


AFP -  Accused Kingston drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrived Thursday in New York to face drug and gun-trafficking charges following his extradition from Jamaica, US authorities said.

Coke "arrived this evening in the Southern District of New York to face charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic in firearms," the US Justice Department said in a statement.

"Coke is expected to be arraigned in Manhattan federal court tomorrow (Friday)," the statement added.

The alleged drug lord's bid to evade capture last month led to the deaths of 73 civilians in a bloody offensive on his west Kingston stronghold, but he was finally turned over to US marshals earlier Thursday at Michael Manley International Airport and escorted to the flight to New York.

Earlier, he had signed documents waiving his right to an extradition trial at a 15-minute hearing, Jamaica's Ministry of National Security said in a statement.

"Everyone, the whole country, has been adversely affected by the process that has surrounded my extradition and I hope that my action today will go some way towards healing all who have suffered and will be of benefit to the community of Tivoli Gardens," Coke said in a statement.

A raid by police and troops on Tivoli Gardens last month to capture Coke, a Robin Hood figure with deep support in the ramshackle slums of west Kingston, ended in the deaths of 73 civilians.

Despite a state of emergency, house-to-house searches and a bloody shootout between security forces and armed Coke supporters, Coke managed to evade capture until Tuesday, amid rumors that he was either being sheltered on the island or had fled.

He had shaved his beard and was wearing a wig when he was picked up by police, who saw through the disguise.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding ordered Coke's arrest on May 24 after months of hesitation following a US indictment on charges that the "Shower Posse" Coke heads is supplying much of the cocaine on the streets of eastern US cities.

Coke said he was acting in what he considered "the best interest of my family, the community of Western Kingston and in particular the people Tivoli Gardens and above all Jamaica."

"Above all I am deeply upset and saddened by the unnecessary loss of lives which could have been avoided, be it of the members of the security forces and over eighty residents of Tivoli or any other innocent Jamaicans that has occurred during this time," he said.

Asking for Jamaicans' prayers, he said, "I leave Jamaica and my family in particular (his mother) Patsy with a heavy heart but fully confident that in due course I will be vindicated and returned to them."

If convicted, Coke faces life in a US prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Pastor Al Miller, director of the National Transformation Program within the Office of the Prime Minister, had earlier said Coke wanted to turn himself in at the US embassy and waive his rights before the Jamaican court.

"We look forward to working closely with the Jamaican authorities to bring Mr. Coke to justice to face charges pending against him in the United States," Rebecca Park, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Kingston, said Wednesday.

After an extradition hearing in the morning in the Jamaican capital, Resident Magistrate Georgianna Fraser ordered Coke to be held at a security facility called Red Fence until his extradition.

He was flown to Michael Manley airport in a Jamaica Defense Forces helicopter in the early afternoon where US marshals were waiting for him, his lawyer said.

The son of one of the Caribbean island's most legendary dons, Coke made a name for himself as a businessman, political player and chief of the "Shower Posse," a group named not for cleanliness but for showering bullets on their foes.

Coke's gang effectively controlled Tivoli Gardens, an impoverished area of western Kingston where he created a mini-economy providing both livelihoods and protection to residents desperately seeking both.

"They see him as a Robin Hood or even a Jesus -- someone who stands up for them and is willing to die for them, even if he is an evil Messiah," said the Reverend Earlmont Williams, the pastor of a local church.

But Coke never flaunted his wealth like other gang leaders and stayed out of the public eye. Even at the small restaurants and guesthouses on his home turf of Tivoli Gardens, some residents say they would not recognize him if he walked in.

In defying arrest, he may have been trying to avoid the fate of his father, Jim Brown, who died in 1992 in a mysterious fire after being taken into custody.

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