Dec 9, 2014

Buju Banton to courts: Release me, deport me to Jamaica

TAMPA — Grammy-winning reggae singer Buju Banton hopes recent changes in drug sentencing rules will get him out of prison early and back to his native Jamaica.

But the performer is likely out of luck.

Although more than 1,700 drug defendants sentenced in Tampa federal court have been identified as potential beneficiaries of a recent rollback in federal sentencing guidelines, the change won’t apply to most of those serving minimum mandatory sentences under the law.

Banton, whose legal name is Mark Myrie, is serving 10 years, the minimum mandatory sentence for his conviction on a charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The only ways to get around the minimum mandatory sentences would require defendants to cooperate with investigators or at least give a full confession to their crimes. Banton, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, is unlikely to meet that requirement.

The Jamaican-born reggae star was convicted in February 2011, days after he won a Grammy award for his work titled “Before the Dawn.”

The singer was arrested in 2010 following a sting by the Drug Enforcement Administration at a Sarasota warehouse. Banton was targeted by investigators starting in July 2009 when, returning with his band from a European tour, he happened to sit next to an informant on a flight from Madrid to Miami. Authorities subsequently recorded numerous conversations in which the two men talked about drug trafficking.

Banton is serving his sentence in a prison run by Corrections Corporation of America in McRae, Georgia. He is scheduled for release in 2019. His case is on appeal.

In the meantime, he filed his own motion from prison asking to be released early under a recent change in federal drug sentencing guidelines, which the U.S. Sentencing Commission decided would be applied retroactively to inmates.

The federal probation office in the Middle District of Florida has identified 1,748 inmates originally sentenced in Tampa on drug charges as potentially eligible to benefit from the change, known as Drugs Minus 2, because it reduces sentencing guidelines for most drug offenses by two levels. If projections hold true, the average sentence of 11 years and 1 month will be reduced to nine years.

Those defendants will not be eligible for release until Nov. 1, 2015.

Chief Judge Anne C. Conway issued an order last month directing the probation office to identify inmates who may be eligible for early release under the change and to prepare reports in each case addressing the issues, including a proposed range for new sentences. Conway directed the Federal Public Defender’s Office to represent all inmates for this purpose unless there is a conflict of interest.

Probation officers are prioritising cases by their potential release dates, meaning those who are likely to be eligible for release first will be addressed first.

In the meantime, hundreds of inmates, like Banton, have tried to get their cases heard by filing their own motions with the court.

In his motion, Banton argues he should be sentenced to 92 months in prison under the new guidelines. He says he’s been “working in prison since his incarceration” and has “very good conduct’’ behind bars.

He asks that the court reduce his sentence and turn him over to immigration authorities so he can be deported back to Jamaica.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which implemented the change to the sentencing guidelines, says it cannot do anything about minimum mandatory sentences, which are spelled out in law. “Only Congress can change mandatory minimum penalties,” the commission says on its website.

Chief Probation Officer Joe Collins estimated 225 drug offenders sentenced in the Middle District of Florida may be eligible for release on Nov. 1, 2015. Of that group, 75 cases have been reviewed by probation officers, and 48 were originally sentenced in federal court in Tampa.

The former inmates all will have to serve a period of probation — known as supervised release — and Collins said his office is bracing for the increased workload, which he said will be 70 to 80 percent more than normal.

Attorneys with the public defender’s office say another retroactive change in how some sentences are calculated could shave significant time off the sentences of certain drug defendants sentenced in some jurisdictions, including the federal circuit that encompasses Florida.

Those defendants received credit for providing prosecutors with “substantial assistance,” or extensive cooperation. The Sentencing Commission ordered a change in how their sentences were calculated.

The public defender’s office hopes to file a motion in the case of one Tampa defendant, for example, who was convicted of possessing a small amount of drugs, according to federal defender attorney Conrad Kahn. But because he had two prior convictions for small drug amounts, he received a lengthy sentence, even though he was given credit for substantial assistance.

Kahn said the planned motion has the potential to reduce the defendant’s sentence by 17 or 18 years, allowing his immediate release after having served about seven years.

By Elaine Silvestrini | Tribune Staff


Sep 9, 2014

Buju Banton could walk free this year says Attorney Charles Ogletree

Could Buju Banton hit the streets before the end of his ten year prison sentence?

LISTEN to audio of interview with Attorney Charles Ogletree:

Well, the Gargamel’s attorney, Charles Ogletree tells W.T.S that the dancehall deejay could be out this year. Attorney Ogletree who expresses his happiness with the latest developments surrounding the case, says if the conviction is reversed, Buju could be out this year.

The US Appeals Court has granted the deejay’s request to present oral arguments regarding his efforts to obtain a new trial. However, no date has yet been set for the lawyers to appear before the Appeal Court.

Buju Banton is serving a 10-year sentence on drug-related charges after he was arrested at his South Florida home in December 2009 and charged with conspiracy to distribute five or more kilos of cocaine.

After two trials he was sentenced in a Tampa, Florida court.

Buju Banton has maintained his innocence and says he was entrapped by the United States government.


Aug 21, 2014

Buju Banton May Get Chance To Go Free

Buju Banton was convicted in 2011 of a conspiracy to traffic cocaine, but now the husky voiced reggae star could have a chance to go free.

A lawyer for Banton said this week that a U.S. federal appellate court has agreed to hear arguments for an appeal.

“Mr. Buju Banton was pleased to learn that the 11th Circuit granted a new hearing of his appeal. We too are looking forward to the appellate argument,” said Charles Ogletree, a Harvard University law professor who took over Banton’s case in February.

Banton was convicted and sentenced to ten years for cocaine trafficking after he was arrested in a sting operation in 2009. After his first trial in 2010 ended with jurors deadlocked, Buju Banton was convicted in a re-trial the next year.

A jury convicted Banton on counts 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.”

Banton’s former lawyer had claimed that a government information entrapped the reggae star, though a panel of the appellate court denied the arguments in 2012 and upheld the conviction.

Buju Banton is seen as a trailblazer in the reggae-rap hybrid between dancehall reggae and traditional reggae.

At his sentencing, Banton called on a number of celebrities to speak in his favor, including Jamaican government officials, fellow reggae stars, and even an NBA player. Actor Danny Glover was one of those who spoke in support of Banton, calling him a”role model, philanthropist and spiritual leader in the community.”

“Your honor, Mark Myrie is not a drug dealer,” Glover wrote, using Banton’s given name. “Society would not benefit from his incarceration.”

It was not clear when Buju Banton could have a hearing for an appeal, or when a re-trail might take place.

Mar 9, 2014

Letter by Buju paying tribute to late attorney

Incarcerated Reggae icon Buju Banton has issued a heart-rending tribute to his former lead attorney and late Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Kwame Lumumba, who died under mysterious circumstances last week.

Writing from a federal prison in Miami, Florida, Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, blasted the system which he claimed entrapped and imprisoned him for his beliefs. Here is the full text of Banton's letter.

Mark Anthony Myrie (86700004) ( Buju Banton) To the family and friends of the late  Chokwe Lumumba: My heart goes out to you all. I share in your grief immensely.

Having been one of the many lives Atty Lumumba has touched, it's with a deep sense of privation that I mourn the passing of my friend and another great black freedom fighter. Atty Chokwe Lumumba, a warrior just like the great leader Patrice Lumumba who fought for the liberation of the Congo in Africa.

Atty Lumumba fought for many who could not stand up against a profaned system that is filled with injustice. A well-disciplined and principled man.

We first met while I was going through the litigation process stemming from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal's decision to reinstate a gun charge. A charge that was previously dismissed by the district court judge.

This tall, dignified black man walked into the visiting room at the FCI Miami, introduced himself and got right down to business. Atty Lumumba had already done his homework concerning my case and clearly saw that something was amiss. He never tried to sugar-coat his thoughts.

Atty Lumumba believed it was imperative and made it very clear that I should do the same.

Throughout those protracted months I spent at the Pinellas County Jail in Tampa, Florida, Atty Lumumba called at least twice weekly to discuss my case and ascertain all was well with me.

He travelled all the way from Mississippi to Florida for attorney client visits. All these actions of genuine interest in my situation gave me confidence in Atty Lumumba. We developed mutual respect for each other.

His appraisal of my chances as it regards justice were always realistic, hence his proactive approach as opposed to being reactive.

This brought about a favourable outcome, with the gun charge being dismissed.

At the end of the evidentiary hearings in 2013, Atty Lumumba looked me in the eyes and said: "What did you do to these people. This is not justice at all. From the gate, you have been screwed".

Atty Lumumba also advised me that having been elected Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, he was unable to continue his career as a defence attorney.

However, he went on to recommend a few attorneys whom he believed would effectively assist me. Atty Lumumba also reached out to my current attorney, Professor Charles Ogletree.

In parting, Atty Lumumba again said: "Mark, it's going to be an uphill struggle. I saw what they did to you and, unfortunately, you didn't see it coming. Once they have you, it's hell to break free from their chains son. I wish you all the best. You can call me anytime for anything at all. However, I can render assistance, trust me I will".

We spoke several times after he was no longer my official representative, even through third parties, even as recent as two days before his passing. So I was not only shocked but also in a state of denial.

Atty Lumumba was vigorous and energetic. Even when he spoke in a subtle manner. How could this happen without warning? This is really sad. I just have to pay my respects in whatever way I can.

Thank you for the time you dedicated to my cause. It will be with me forever and the countless others whom you have touched with your passion for justice.

I know you are in a much better place. If what they say is true, then you are still fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Farewell, my friend. You shall be greatly missed. Friends for life and even after.

Mark Myrie aka Buju Banton


Feb 21, 2014

Buju files another appeal

Incarcerated reggae star Buju Banton has filed yet another appeal in the United States to reverse his conviction on drug charges.

The appeal by attorneys Professor Charles Ogletree, Jack Cushman and Max Stern was filed with the 11th US Circuit Court on February 4.

Ogletree, who is the head of the law department at Harvard University, said he accepted the offer to represent Banton -- whose real name is Mark Myrie -- because it was clear that he did not receive a fair trial.

"There is no way in the world he received a fair trial," Ogletree told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

After two trials, Banton was sentenced to 10 years in a Tampa, Florida, court for drug-related offences. However, information later emerged that jury foreman Teri Wright had defied an order from Judge Tim Moody and had studied aspects of the Pinkerton Law and Banton's music.

The Pinkerton Law was used by the prosecution to convict Banton for using a telephone to facilitate a drug-trafficking offence.

The information came to light after Wright admitted her misconduct to a reporter. Wright was then ordered by the court to hand over a computer she had used to study the law, but instead handed over another computer. A computer forensics expert hired by Banton later proved that the hard drive on the computer had not been used for a number of years.

According to Ogletree, although the appeal had been filed, it would take months before the case is heard by the appellate court's judges.

"It's hard to tell; we have called for a continuance and the government will call for a continuance. However, I hope to get it before the court before the end of 2014," he said.

As an inmate in the care of the state, the federal Bureau of Prison can house Banton in any penal facility of their choice and Ogletree said a move was afoot to remove him from the low-security FCI Miami prison to another location.

"We have filed in the court to get him to stay in Miami," he said.

He said despite his travails, Myrie has remained upbeat and is looking forward to his appeal being heard.

"He is very positive. I speak to him every other day. He read the brief and is happy with it. He is glad that the truth is being told about him," he said.

Buju Banton was arrested in December 2009 at his Tamarac, Florida, home and charged with conspiracy to distribute five or more kilogrammes of cocaine. His arrest followed a sting operation at a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-controlled warehouse in Tampa, which also resulted in the arrest of James Mack and Ian Thomas, who were attempting to purchase cocaine from undercover agents.

Banton has maintained his innocence and claimed he was entrapped by government informant Alexander Thomas, who hounded him for months to get involved in drug smuggling.