TAMPA, Fla. – Grammy-winning reggae singer Buju Banton was convicted Tuesday of conspiring to set up a cocaine deal in 2009.
A federal jury returned their verdict after deliberating for 11 hours over two days on the fate of Banton, who won a Grammy last week for best reggae album for his work entitled "Before the Dawn." He was found guilty of three of the four charges he faced.
The 37-year-old Banton remains wildly popular in his native Jamaica, and his trial was packed with supporters that included other well known reggae artists.
The singer, whose given name is Mark Myrie, was on trial on accusations that he conspired with two other men in setting up a drug deal in December of 2009.
Prosecutors argued during trial that Banton portrayed himself as a broker of drug deals in several conversations with a confidential informant. Defense attorneys countered that he was simply a "big talker" trying to impress the informant, but that he wasn't involved in any drug deal.
Banton was found guilty of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense and using the wires to facilitate a drug trafficking offense. He was acquitted of attempted possession with the intent to distribute cocaine
Much of the case hinged on meetings and phone calls that were video and audiotaped by the confidential informant, who was working with the Drug Enforcement Administration — and who made $50,000 in commission after the bust.
In one video, Banton could be seen tasting cocaine in a Sarasota warehouse on Dec. 8, 2009 — but he was not present during the actual drug deal on Dec. 10 that led two others to be arrested. Those two men later pleaded guilty.
This is Banton's second trial. A jury deadlocked in his first trial last year.
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