By Youri Kemp
Caribbean News Now associate editor
TAMPA, USA — Previously sealed video evidence that shows Grammy Award winning reggae artist, Buju Banton, whose real name is Mark Anthony Myrie, involved in a drug operation turned undercover sting, has been obtained and released by ABC News just months before his scheduled release from the McRae Correctional Institution, Georgia, in December of this year.
The video shows Myrie, along with three other men at a warehouse in Sarasota, Florida, examining a packet, which was said to be cocaine, bound for an unidentified man in Georgia.
The other men in the video were later identified as Alex Johnson, the man who Myrie met some five months earlier on a trip from Madrid, Spain, en route to Florida and was a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informant who initially arranged the warehouse meeting with Myrie; as well as two other men posing as drug traffickers but are later identified as DEA agents, whom Myrie met at the request and arrangement of Johnson.
The undercover video was requested to remain sealed as to hide the identity of the DEA’s informants and other officers who are still connected to field work. However, ABC news appealed to a federal judge who agreed to unseal the video that directly connects Myrie to the drug deal that led to his arrest and conviction.
Fans of Myrie, who has had no prior drug arrests, claim that the arrest was entrapment and that he should be freed from prison and fully exonerated.
Without question, court testimony shows that Myrie was indeed courted by drug informant, Alex Johnson, over the course of several months, to the point of harassment of Myrie who he desperately wanted to make a significant drug deal after their chance encounter on that flight from Madrid back in 2009.
Fans and observers allege that Myrie was lured to the warehouse where the drug sting was taking place, only after he was told he was about to go to Johnson’s sailboat where Johnson claims that Myrie knew about a proposed drug deal, regardless of the venue changing from sailboat to a DEA warehouse that was under surveillance and being taped for evidence.
As a result of the sting, Myrie was arrested in December 2009 and booked in the Pinellas County jail on conspiracy to distribute and possession of more than five kilograms of cocaine. He was also charged with a count of possession of a firearm with the intent to use in the trafficking of distribution of cocaine.
The first trial ended up in a mistrial in February 2010 due to the failure of jury to reach a unanimous verdict.
During a retrial in February 2011, Myrie was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offence and using communication wires to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence; but was found not guilty on the charge of attempted possession of five or more kilograms of cocaine, and sentenced to ten years and one month in US federal prison.
The firearm related charges were later dropped in May 2015 by federal prosecutors after Myrie’s lawyer claimed jury tampering in the case after having the initial court hearing on the firearm charges postponed in October, 2012.
Myrie, while not having any prior drug arrests or convictions, has had a controversial career since he first broke on to the music scene.
When he was 15, his chart-topping 1992 song, “Boom Bye Bye”, sent shockwaves through the ever increasingly empowered gay and lesbian community years later, as they realised that the song advocated for the shooting and murdering of gay and lesbian people.
In Myrie’s last recorded interview from jail in June 2017, hears him in good spirits and focusing on his possible release hearing and giving praise to God for all things.
The confirmed release date for Myrie is December 8, 2018, after eight years of his original ten-year sentence in 2011.