TAMPA (CBS4) – Grammy award-winning reggae artist Buju Banton was sentenced to ten years in prison despite dozens of letters from supporters who pled for leniency.
Early this year Banton was convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using a telephone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.
U.S District Judge James S. Moody received letters from several of Banton’s fans, a former Jamaican government official and actor Danny Glover, who referred to Banton as a “role model, philanthropist and spiritual leader in the community.”
The 37 year-old artist, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, will be leaving behind 15 children.
Banton’s eldest son, Mark Myrie Jr., wrote to Moody and said his father “puts hard work, sweat and tears into his music and that is what (he) `puts on the table,’ it has never been drugs….The situation is just an example of our mere imperfections as people being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
According to Banton’s attorney, David Markus, federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of at least 15 years in prison; a sentence that Markus said was “way more than necessary.”
The judge threw out a gun charge, which lowered Banton’s sentence from 15 to 10 years and ordered him to serve 5 years of probation after his prison term.
Markus argued that Banton’s limited participation in the drug deal, his philanthropic work in Jamaica and clean record merited a reduced sentence.
Assistant U.S Attorney James Preston said that Banton believed that he was getting into a “no risk” deal in which he would introduce a friend to drug dealer, who was in reality an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Preston claimed that in several conversations with the informant Banton portrayed himself as a broker of drug deals.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Banton did not put any money into the drug deal nor did he profit from it.
A bulk of the case rested on phone calls that were both videotaped and audio-taped by the informant. One video depicted Banton tasting cocaine in a Sarasota warehouse on December 8, 2009; however, he was not present during the actual drug deal two days later.
Banton testified that he met the informant on a trans-Atlantic flight in July 2009 and soon after the informant began badgering him to enter into the drug deal.
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