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Jamaican pleads guilty in drug case; arrest stirred deadly riots

September 1, 2011 | 10:11 am

He was a notorious drug lord in Jamaica, a Robin Hood to some and a thug to others whose supporters rose up in deadly riots that racked Kingston last year when police moved to arrest him and send him to the United States for trial.

But Christopher Coke -- aka President, General, Dudus, and Shortman -- became simply "the defendant" this week as he quietly pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges that could put him in prison for 23 years.

The plea, entered Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan, ended what U.S. Atty. Preet Bharara called an "ugly chapter in criminal history" that began in the early 1990s when Coke became leader of a crime ring in Jamaica known as the Shower Posse and the Presidential Click.

"For nearly two decades, Christopher Coke led a ruthless criminal enterprise that used fear, force and intimidation," Bharara said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Coke orchestrated an international operation that involved running drugs and weapons between Jamaica and the United States, with proceeds going back into his pockets. U.S. officials named him to their list of the world's most dangerous narcotics traffickers, and as part of their war on drugs put pressure on Jamaican authorities to arrest Coke and extradite him to New York.

In the weeks leading up to Coke's arrest in June 2010, scores died in riots around the Tivoli Gardens area of Kingston, which Coke and his posse controlled and which was under lockdown by Coke loyalists who battled to keep law enforcement officials out. Coke was arrested on the outskirts of Kingston, wearing a curly wig and disguised as a woman.

The chaos that erupted in Jamaica in the run-up to Coke's arrest nearly cost Prime Minister Bruce Golding his job. U.S. officials had requested Coke's extradition months earlier, following his indictment in New York on drug and weapons charges, but Golding declined to execute an arrest order. That sparked accusations that Golding was protecting Coke. Golding's opponents, including former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, called on Golding to resign. He refused, exercised the arrest order, and then narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

Coke, who will be sentenced Dec. 8, took charge of the Shower Posse after his father, its onetime leader, died in a prison fire in the early 1990s while awaiting extradition to the United States. Despite its fearsome reputation, Coke's group had some fans among Tivoli Gardens residents who said its punishing tactics controlled crime and kept outsiders from entering the neighborhood.

-- Tina Susman in New York


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Photo: A Jamaican soldier walks past a wall painted with the image of reggae artist Bob Marley in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica, on May 27, 2010, amid riots over the arrest of drug lord Christopher Coke. Credit: Hans Deryk/Reuters