The arrest of Jamaican reggae star [artist id="504346"]Buju Banton[/artist] on Thursday in Florida on conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute cocaine followed an investigation that sounds like an episode of the 1980s cop drama “Miami Vice.”
According to the Tampa Tribune, the arrest of one of the most controversial modern reggae acts to come from the island nation in the post-Bob Marley era began with a meeting last Tuesday at a Sarasota, Florida, restaurant called La Tropicana de Havana. It was there that Banton (born Mark Anthony Myrie) allegedly pulled up in a silver Land Rover with the license plate “JAH ONE” with another man named Ian Thomas and an unidentified woman and allegedly attempted to arrange to buy several kilos of cocaine.
Police recorded the meeting, and according to the criminal complaint, a confidential source told the singer to go to a warehouse under surveillance, where they met with an undercover Sarasota police officer who showed him and the woman a car that had 20 kilos of cocaine stashed in secret compartments. Banton and Thomas allegedly sampled the drugs and negotiated the price for a few hours, then left, only to return the next day after Thomas called the source and expressed interest in buying 15 kilos of the drug.
Another meeting took place Wednesday at an Applebee’s restaurant in Sarasota, where Thomas allegedly told the source his group wanted to purchase 5 kilos and possibly more at a later time. He also reportedly said another member of his crew was in the parking lot with about $125,000 in cash.
By late afternoon, Thomas and the source left the restaurant and met with a man named James Mack, who was in the driver’s seat of the car and who returned to the Applebee’s to continue negotiating the deal, according to the criminal complaint.
On Thursday morning, Thomas and Mack allegedly drove back to the warehouse, where an undercover Sarasota officer saw Mack pull large amounts of cash from a hidden panel in the rear driver’s side of the Honda. After inspecting the cash, the undercover officer gave a bag with 7 kilos of cocaine to Thomas and Mack. Officers then gave the signal to arrest the two, while Banton was simultaneously apprehended in Miami.
All three were charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and are being held with no bond. Grammy nominee Banton — whose recent U.S. tour was plagued by calls for protest from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who decry the homophobic lyrics to his 1992 song “Boom Bye Bye” — is expected to appear in a Miami courtroom later this week. He faces up to 20 years in prison on the charges. A spokesperson for the singer could not be reached for comment at press time.