NEWS

Jamaican drug lord's sentencing delayed

03/16/2012 05:11 EDT | Updated 05/16/2012 05:12 EDT

Sentencing has been postponed until May for a Jamaican drug lord facing more than 20 years in prison in the United States.

Christopher "Dudus" Coke, 38, was captured in Jamaica in 2010, a month after a bloody siege of his ghetto stronghold left more than 70 dead and was arrested and extradited to the U.S. a month later. He pleaded guilty in 2011 to racketeering, conspiracy and drug-trafficking charges and is now facing up to 23 years in prison in federal court in Manhattan.

Before the decision to postpone sentencing, Coke wrote a seven-page letter to the federal judge scheduled to sentence him on trafficking charges, seeking mercy by arguing that he was a do-gooder — throwing Easter parties, helping the poor and starting a school.

"I implemented a lot of social programs for the residents of my community — programs that teach them about self-empowerment," Coke wrote. However, he glossed over a list of accusations by federal officials that suggest he's a cold-blooded killer, drug trafficker and arms dealer.

He was a divisive figure: a folk hero to some followers in the West Kingston slum of Tivoli Gardens and feared vengeful overlord to others. Coke took over the notorious Shower Posse, which has links in Toronto, from his father, who died in a mysterious fire in a Jamaican prison cell in 1992.

The court has received letters of support from Jamaica. One man described how "Dudus" started youth soccer leagues, paid medical bills for sick neighbours and even helped children with their homework.

The altruism won Coke loyalty and political clout in Tivoli Gardens. When he was in charge, neighbours felt so protected by him they never locked their doors. Now, even though police patrol the streets, people such as longtime resident Gloria Petgrave are frightened to step outside at night.

"I've never seen it as bad as it is now — lots of robberies," Petgrave said Thursday, just outside the bullet-pocked ghetto where she's lived for four decades. "We want Dudus to come back here, but I doubt he ever will."

But Coke's power came at a cost, authorities said. In court papers, federal prosecutors call Tivoli Gardens "a garrison community" patrolled by Coke's young henchmen armed with illegal weapons bought on the black market in the United States and smuggled into Jamaica. Elections were rigged.

Anyone who crossed Coke was detained and punished. One person accused of thievery "was brought to the 'jail,' tied down and killed by Coke with a chainsaw," the court papers say.

Coke's gang also used women as mules to transport drugs to the U.S., the papers said. Several women abused in Jamaica have written to the sentencing judge asking him to give the defendant a harsh punishment. They've insisted on anonymity.

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